The Freilachmakers Klezmer String Band - Klawhammer Klezmer And More
The Freilachmakers Klezmer String Band is lead by Andy Rubin, as far as I am aware, the first klezmer musician to incorporate "clawhammer" banjo into klezmer, and to wonderful effect too. More recently, Rubin also joined with David Kidron, and Vince Wolfe and Lewis Santer of Driving With Fergus, to form CeiliZemer to record the stunning soundtrack to Valerie Lapin Ganley's documentary about the Jewish community of Ireland, Shalom Ireland, but the album reviewed here is with his regular band. The Freilachmakers Klezmer String Band, in addition to Andy Rubin on 5-string clawhammer banjo, mandolin and vocals, in this past line-up features Elaine Fingerett on accordion, Dave Kidd (aka David Kidron) on fiddle, balalaika, pennywhistle and vocals, David Rosenfeld on guitar and mandolin, and Lou Ann Weiss on string bass. The Flower of Berezin is their debut album, first released in 1998.
Describing themselves as five Jewish musicians from Northern California, The Freilachmakers Klezmer String Band blend klezmer standards, original compositions, Balkan, Irish and American Old Time Dance tunes in their own unique style, distinguished by finely nuanced and highly punctuated interpretations and brilliant arrangements. They prove themselves a fine bunch of zany and superb musicians with very fine ensemble playing on The Flower of Berezin.
The opener is the classic Der Heyser Bulgar, in an arrangement that's very tempting to describe as "Klezmer Mountain". It's a brilliantly stunning interpretation of an incredibly versatile tune. The Yablokoff standard Papirosn features Dave Kidd's excellent vocals (and outstanding diction) and a decidedly un-sentimental interpretation that contrasts the poignancy of the lyrics with a wonderful slightly newgrassy up-beat arrangement that segues seamlessly into an equally superb version of the American Old Time dance classic, Ragtime Annie. And if by now you don't find the urge to jump up utterly irresistible, then you probably suffer from two left feet and never dance anyway. The Flowers of Antrim is a well-known traditional Irish hornpipe that manages to sound even jollier than any other interpretation that I have heard, and segues seamlessly into an Andy Rubin original, the title track The Flower of Berezin, a klezmerized mirror to the Irish hornpipe. A memorial to Rubin's grandmother who came from the city of Berezin in Belarus, its mood is more on the reflective side, though evidently full of happy memories and filled with a great sense of affection. The old favourite klezmer hora, a stately dance, Baym Rebn in Palestina, features Andy Rubin's clawhammer banjo at its most subtle, and indeed Rubin's sensitivity and soft playing are not only a delight but also something that's not heard too often in this particular style of banjo playing. This segues to Tantsl firn di Makhetonim, a somewhat livelier dance that here is given an added, original, modal variation. The Odessa Bulgar, another well-known bulgar, opens with gypsy-style fiddle and guitar work, then adds American old-timey and norteno licks to great effect. Andy Rubin's warm, rich baritone vocals feature on Shtil di Nacht, a superb song about the Jewish partisans of the Vilna region rendered with greatest sensitivity and inspiration, uplifting and inspiring. One of the best known klezmer tunes, Leibedik un Freilach, an exuberant freylekh, is given an equally exuberant old time dance treatment. Sonny's Mazurka again explores traditional Irish music in The Freilachmakers' unique style, segueing into an exuberant, even breathtaking Macedonian Horo. A Chassidic nign of the Medyatsiner Rebbe (Rabbi), The Medyatsiner Waltz, segues into another Rubin original, The Minsker Corporal's Waltz, modeled on the Irish tune Rosin the Beau. The closing track is made up of Der Rebbe is Gegangen, given a beautifully meditative treatment, and The Kishiniever Bulgar, a joyful bulgar.
The Freilachmakers Klezmer String Band's The Flower of Berezin simply bubbles with exuberance and a great sense of fun. The playing is highly virtuosic, yet subtle. Truly original and inventive, The Freilachmakers Klezmer String Band have come up with a style that is as compelling as their album and of equal charm and wit. The Flower of Berezin has to be essential in any serious contemporary klezmer collection and will be equally at home in any general world music, (post-) Newgrass/Old Time Dance Music, and even modern Irish/Celtic collection.
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