Giora Feidman, with Raul Jaurena
Raul Jaurena playing his bandoneon solo
Raul Jaurena, Giora Feidman
Aquiles Baez, here on the Venezuelan cuatro
Much gratitude and kudos is due the Jewish Music Institute at SOAS, London, and especially its tireless Ms. Geraldine Auerbach MBE for bringing the Giora Feidman Quartet to London once again,
a rare musical treat for the UK. TangoKlezmer was the opener of a series of four recitals/concerts presented by the Jewish Music Institute at Union Chapel under the overall title of "Klezmer Beats On Upper Street". Maestro Feidman may (sadly) perhaps be even better known in continental Europe and in particular Germany but all the same needs little introduction here. One of the giants of the clarinet (and bass clarinet) of our time, Giora
Feidman transcends genre and it would be doing this great maestro a grave injustice to describe him as either a classical, klezmer, or Tango clarinettist. Maestro Feidman is so much more than any of these, and even all of these. Of course, every great artist always has his or her detractors, and Feidman is no exception to this rule. To these, his detractors, I'd like to say, take a break, suspend thinking in terms of any genres for an evening and just listen to Giora Feidman play his music, live, and listen not just with your ears but especially with your hearts. Feidman's music doesn't so much emanate merely from his instrument, but straight from his heart. A very, very big heart.
The other members of the Giora Feidman Quartet will also need little introduction especially to aficionados of Latin/Afro-Latin music or jazz and classical music. Raul Jaurena, a member of legendary Uruguayan pianist Cesar Zagnoli's trio in the 1960s and 70s, has recorded with one of the great legends of Afro-Cuban and Afro-Latin music, another of our time's greatest reedists, Paquito D'Rivera, and many others, and has long been renowned as one of the greatest bandoneon soloists as well as a composer and arranger. Aquiles Baez, perhaps best known for his work on Fernando Trueba's Afro-Latin music documentary film, Calle 54, likewise has constantly crossed and bridged the classical and Afro-Latin music worlds and again like Jaurena has also worked with Paquito D'Rivera amongst many others; an extraordinary guitarist, Baez also plays a number of Latin American stringed instruments including the little cuatro of his native Venezuela and is also a composer and arranger. Ken Filiano embraces the worlds of classical music and jazz equally, and lots besides, and is an highly inventive and creative bassist and composer as well as an uncommonly accomplished improviser.
Tango Klezmer the music may indeed need a little introduction for many. As the Tango evolved in Argentina in the early decades of the 20th century (CE), it quickly also found favour among Argentina's Jewish population, whose musicians soon put their own stamp on this new form and incorporated it into their own music (the term "klezmer" or "klezmer music" hadn't come to be used in its present sense yet). At about the same time, as the Tango conquered Europe, and in particular also Eastern Europe, again (Eastern European) Jewish musicians quickly adopted this new style, which during the nightmare that was the Shoah or holocaust gave rise to the "Ghetto Tango", a form of song that combined elements of tango and cabaret song with lyrics, usually deeply moving, often disturbing, heart-rending, telling of everyday life in the ghettos and, in some cases, even in the death camps. Essentially, Tango Klezmer can be any of this music, but it can also be standard tangos played by Jewish musicians.
Giora Feidman, Aquiles Baez, Ken Filiano
The Union Chapel, Islington, which has long held a justified reputation as a splendid and intimate concert and recital venue, was slightly more than half full on this not too chilly late October Thursday evening. The audience was one that many a concert venue and performer would envy; not only enthusiastic and responsive, but also abstinent from such common distractions as shuffling and the usually near inevitable coughing.
The other quartet members having taken their places on the excellently lighted stage, Giora Feidman made a dramatic entrance that any lesser musician might have made seem somewhat pompous but that Maestro Feidman not only carried off with greatest finesse and dignity but transformed into an integral, even essential, part of the musical experience. Emerging very slowly from the rear of the auditorium to walk down one of the aisles towards the stage, pausing every now and then, Giora Feidman cast a spell over his audience from the first faint, barely audible pianississimo note with a sound that could have come straight from Eden. How much his use of crystal mouth pieces contributes to Feidman's clarinet voice is perhaps impossible to determine (I must confess to usually having a preference for certainly classical chamber performances utilising these), for the maestro is one of those supreme ones who, like Charlie Parker in his day, if stuck without his usual instruments could pick up a toy plastic one and still make it sound like pure gold, I'm sure.
From the outset, Giora Feidman had his audience at his feet and eating out of his hand. Not only an outstanding virtuoso but an extremely accomplished raconteur whose sincerity, warmth and depth - so evident in both his music and his words - could not fail to hold any audience captive. He had his audience singing, humming, and alternately listening rapturously. His message could not fail to touch and move as deeply as his music. Giora Feidman's message? One that is embraced by perhaps most musicians, certainly all great musicians. To break down barriers, transcend borders, whether musical, cultural, or political ones. To embrace our "enemies", whoever they may be, as fellow human beings, as friends. To realize that what we all have in common is much greater than what makes us different, and to celebrate the differences for enriching us. A simple, universal message, and alas one that cannot possibly be repeated and extolled often enough in our sad world. Of course, Giora Feidman also applied his message specifically to the tragic situation of the Israeli-Arab conflict, mourning for both the Israeli soldier who does not return to his wife and children at the end of the day and also for the Palestinian fighter who also does not return to his wife and children at the end of the day, and for the victims of suicide bombers and for the victims of Israeli defence force actions. "Palestinians don't all want to kill all Jews.... they're not so different... invite them in, have tea with them, talk as human beings...", was one of Mr. Feidman's (approximately quoted, with apologies) verbal messages.
The musical performance was no less big-hearted, both on the part of Maestro Feidman himself and the rest of his quartet. The Giora Feidman Quartet are as close, as tight an ensemble as could be imagined, each member an outstanding virtuoso in his own right. While it would be impossible to comment on each individual number of this recital, and unfair as it seems given that every single one was a highlight in itself, a few selected highlights may serve to illuminate the whole.
Raul Jaurena, Giora Feidman
Leading Israeli composer Ora Bat Chaim's Together provided a dramatic opener, and set the standard for the remainder of the performance. And that standard was as breathtaking as the music itself, simply as though not of this earth, somewhere way "out there". The traditional Bublicka was endearing in its charm. Piazzolla's Libertango is one of those true all-time classic standards like Body And Soul, El Manisero (The Peanut Vendor), Caravan, Summertime, Petite Fleur and others that's simply highly memorable, catchy, and dare one say immortal, and that's always transcended genres and is played as much in classical as in jazz and world music settings. You can hear a thousand different versions of these and still find something new in every one, and never tire of them. But every now and then, there is a particular version that stands out way above the rest. For me, the most memorable and exciting versions of Libertango until now have been the composer's own, one recorded by the first incarnation of The Caribbean Jazz Project (featuring Paquito D'Rivera and ace pannist Andy Narell), and vibist Gary Burton's on his album Gary Burton Plays Astor Piazzolla. The arrangement by bandoneonist Raul Jaurena we were treated to on this grand occasion stands right alongside these. A passionate, fresh and refreshing interpretation, gutsy, even feisty, yet refined, it simply left one gasping. As indeed did the other helpings of Piazzolla's works this enchanted evening.
As for the second movement of Mozart's Clarinet Concerto, among the greatest if not the greatest music ever written for the clarinet, Maestro Feidman yet again revealed new beauty in such a well-known familiar piece with as fine a performance as I've ever been privileged to witness. (The closest thing that I can recall was a late 1960s performance by the late Jack Brymer with, if memory serves, the Vienna Philharmonic.) The maestro's own arrangement of the Scott Joplin classic The Entertainer, both witty and charming, provided proof that you can do original things with such an established and familiar piece without destroying its character. The Jaurena original Musical Dream, the closer, was precisely that: original, and a musical dream, a gem of a piece.
Each of the three other members of the Giora Feidman Quartet was also afforded a solo piece, each as memorable as the other. But it is as an ensemble that Giora Feidman and his co-conspirators Raul Jaurena, Aquiles Baez and Ken Filiano shine even brighter. They are an ensemble of simply devastating power and musicianship, and this evening was one of sheer magic
and enchantment, and joy.
Giora Feidman, Aquiles Baez - encore
Was this Tango Klezmer, or klezmer? Well, it may or may not have been your idea of klezmer. I don't think I, or anybody else for that matter, could possibly answer such a vexed question any better than by slightly paraphrasing the great man and maestro himself, Giora Feidman. Is it klezmer? Is it classical? Is it jazz? I don't know. It's music. It's great music, Maestro Feidman, music that touched, moved, uplifted, music that made barriers irrelevant. May Giora Feidman's voice remain strong and clear for a long, long time to come.
© 2003 Rainlore's World of Music/Rainlore. All rights reserved.