Rise Up! – The Klezmatics
Rounder Records 11661-3197-2
After a meditative invocation, the latest release from the New York's
quintessential klezmer hipsters gets off to a rollicking start. The album
is long and diverse, loaded with energy and spirit, prayer and politics,
irreverence and redemption. Much of it sounds, at the same time,
traditional, fresh and timeless — old world and new.
The Klezmatics are one of New York's best party bands of any genre,
synthesizing a variety of textures – Latin, jazz, experimental,
traditional, African, Middle Eastern, Balkan – with a Jewish core to make
something nutty, crunchy, quite tasty, organic and very downtown. They
can create tremendous, transcendental builds to get even the most
stubborn wall flower out on the dance floor. But they also have
conscience and create some profound moments of introspection — as on "Di
Gaytser (The Ghosts)", a piece by wind player Matt Darriau featuring him
playing the kaval, a Bulgarian flute.
An ecstatic wordless melody sung on "dai," with Loren Sklamberg kicking
it up a notch past where one thought it could go, soaring with his angelic
tenor, holding a note impossibly long as the band nearly bursts
underneath him. Tension, tension, tension, and then it winds, winds down
until there's just a lone organ falling through keys and octaves.
An Aramaic prayer, heavy on Middle Eastern percussion, sits in the middle
of the album, and is promptly followed by something that sounds like it
came out of a 19th century Romanian shtetl. Avant blips, pops and
squawks somehow creating a fitting background for a Yiddish work song
from over half a century ago. A theatrical number for Purim – the
Jewish Halloween – has trumpeter Frank London hamming it up in vocal
falsetto to impersonate a Queen.
The album is so full of creative energy and ideas that a few are bound to
fall flat. The music can take a turn for the hokey with the faux-
Chassidic boys chorus on one track — though I guess such antics are
follow in a long history of Yiddish theater and slapstick comedy. And
I could do without the oblique references to September 11th, 2001 (the disc
recorded less than six months later). This includes the pseudo-spiritual
"I Ain't Afraid," which appears twice — the anthem of the album.
Rise Up! also has certain elements familiar to Klezmatics albums past
requisite gay love song (this one about a Hebrew tutor and his student);
a prayerful violin tune, this time a feature for new fiddler Lisa Gutkin;
and some good old-fashioned Bulgars, to prove that they can still play
"Hevl iz Havolim (Vanity is Vanities)," the closest the album comes to a
Middle Eastern rock song, includes the following translated lyrics: "And
what's old isn't new / And what's new isn't old." But somehow this album is
both, "And oh well, what the hell, does it really matter anyway, because: A
dream is the world / And the world runs on money / And money buys you beer."
Reality ain't always simple or pretty, but it is glorious when it gets
synthesized into something this full and exciting, this restless, this
grounded, this strong and proud.