CeiliZemer - Shalom Ireland: A Klezmer Ceili!
The name CeiliZemer rolls off the tongue almost as easy as the two varieties of music fit together, in other words, a real natural. Ceili of course is a Gaelic word for dance party, as well as for the traditional Celtic music played at such a party, while Zemer is the Hebrew word for song that also forms one half of the two-word contraction klezmer, originally referring to an instrumental musician but today also widely used to describe the traditional instrumental music of Eastern European Ashkenazi Jews. When Valerie Lapin Ganley needed a soundtrack for her documentary about the little known Jewish community of Ireland, Shalom Ireland, it was the perfect opportunity for a bunch of musicians from two Northern Californian bands, one the klezmer band The Freilachmakers Klezmer String Band, the other Irish band Driving With Fergus, to get together to seriously explore combining Irish music and klezmer. The result is CeiliZemer's stunning soundtrack album, Shalom Ireland.
CeiliZemer is made up of Andy Rubin and David Kidron of The Freilachmakers Klezmer String Band and Vince Wolfe and Lewis Santer of Driving With Fergus, outstanding musicians all. Both bands had previously flirted with the other's genre, and the soundtrack for Shalom Ireland was an exciting opportunity to develop a full-blown romance as it were. Both bands also incorporate American folk idioms in their respective music - Andy Rubin is, as far as I know, the first klezmer musician to incorporate "clawhammer" banjo into klezmer -, extending the common ground between the bands even further. The combination of klezmer and Irish music turns out to be a complete natural at the hands of these masters. Both genres share much to begin with. From the obvious, both being principally dance music, to the perhaps not quite so obvious, both sharing distant Middle Eastern roots. (It is all too often overlooked that much if not most of the "folk music" of the British Isles owes its origins to the "moors", Arab refugees fleeing Spanish savagery, ranging from the music itself and many dance forms all the way to most of the instruments, including the Irish bagpipes or uillean pipes and the bodhran.) Above all perhaps, both musical traditions share an intense emotional quality. But all the commonalities wouldn't necessarily guarantee a satisfying musical "fusion" in and of themselves. To achieve that, you need extraordinary musicians of the calibre of CeiliZemer with a good touch of creative magic, the kind that comes from within, from the heart and soul. And Shalom Ireland is sheer magic. The repertoire is drawn from both klezmer and Irish traditions, the instrumentation likewise. The genius of this album lies in that the respective Irish and klezmer identities of each piece are essentially preserved and not subsumed in some uncompromising fusion, but rather are enhanced by gentle touches taken from the other tradition.
CeiliZemer's Shalom Ireland kicks off with a gentle whistle-driven jig, Jig/Boy On The Mountain Top/The Boys Of Portaferry, followed by two segued flute-driven reels. Naftule Shpilt Far Dem Reben is generally more familiar with a clarinet lead, a role here given most effectively to the violin. An "Irished" terkisher describes this perhaps best, although it cannot possibly do justice to the spectacular result. One of the best known klezmer tunes, Khosn Kale Mazltov principally features fiddle again, but with Andy Rubin's superb clawhammer banjo. Poirt na bPucai/Cordal Jig (McWeeney's) comprises an air from the Blasket Islands of County Kerry, a reflective lament with a plaintive fiddle and a wailing uillean pipes solo, and a happier jig. A moderately paced dance, Sadegurer Khosid has Rubin's banjo replacing tsimbl (hammered dulcimer) sensitively and to superb effect. Hora Mit Tsibeles is a hora, a stately, processional dance from the klezmer repertoire, given only the subtlest hints of Irish touches. Two reels, Crooked Road To Dublin/The Virginia follow almost seamlessly, the first letting Andy Rubin's subtle clawhammer banjo shine almost by itself, the second making it share the limelight with uillean pipes and fiddle in a bout of exuberance. Yom Shabbaton features Rubin's pleasant baritone vocals, the lyrics coming from a widely-known Shabbat table song, with delightful gentle Irish touches in the flute interjections in the middle. The liner notes describe the Lewis Santer original Planxty Ginsberg as a "Jew-rish waltz", and it would be very hard to better this for this utterly charming piece. The Hatikvah, meaning hope, is of course the national anthem of Israel and is given a quite stunning interpretation here. The depths of the more sombre emotions are given full expression in Lament For Limerick, with a deeply sad, incredibly evocative whistle and only the subtlest accompaniments. Dem Trisker Rebns Khosid again comes from the klezmer repertoire and is a gentle dance subtly transformed by somewhat Irish instrumentation. Whistle and flute open The Parting Glass and alternate with David Kidron's unaccompanied gorgeous vocals, later to be joined by strings in closing. The closer takes the form of Hatikvah (Reprise), and here is even more stunning with Andy Rubin's brilliant clawhammer banjo and Vince Wolfe's superb bodhran dominating.
It is almost impossible to properly describe the beauty of CeiliZemer's Shalom Ireland. This album is simply breathtaking. Essential in any collection of Irish/Celtic, contemporary klezmer, or general world music.
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