Klezmer At The Confluence
Five years after their last album, The Freilachmakers Klezmer String Band's Klezmer At The Confluence was recently released. And about time, too. This wonderful band's original approach really is something special that needs to heard far more.
In the intervening years between their last offering, And I In The Uttermost West, and the current Klezmer At The Confluence, there have been a few more personnel changes in the Freilachmakers' line-up. Annette Brodovsky, the Freilachmakers' fiddler from 2001-2005, was very sadly and tragically killed in a road accident. New to the band are accordionist Wayne Lutzow, clarinettist Marc Epstein. Also billed as guest musician on the album though in fact a band member from the days of the first Freilachmakers album (but no longer a regular due to now living a considerable distance from the other band members), Dave Rosenfeld is on mandolin, guitar, fiddle and baraban.
Band leader Andy Rubin's delightful clawhammer banjo style remains and continues to lend the band much of its distinctiveness and originality. How does one best describe the style of the Freilachmakers Klezmer String Band, then? With a repertoire on the current offering drawing on traditional klezmer favourites, Chassidic melodies, Ladino song, and even a Russian love song, as well as two originals each by Rubin and Epstein, it is informed by traditional southern Appalachian Old Time string band style, though less so on the Ladino material where there are clear Brazilian influences - though not overwhelmingly so.
Staying with the Ladino songs for a moment, the lead vocals for these are provided by Felipe Ferraz. Ladino songs are, of course, in the Judeo-Spanish language, or Judezmo, the pronunciation of which is much closer to Portuguese and even French than modern Castilian Spanish, and Ferraz, whose first language is Brazilian-Portuguese, is ideally suited to this and delivers as perfect an intonation as one could hope for.
While the presence of the clarinet lends much of the klezmer material a possibly slightly more "conventional" klezmer sound and feel than one perhaps might be used to from the Freilachmakers, and one might perhaps wish for a bit more of Rubin's superb clawhammer, overall, Klezmer At The Confluence is still far from a "conventional" klezmer album. The distinctive old-timey feel is still there, I'm glad to say. A particular delight in this respect is Leibowitz's Khosidl in a highly original arrangement for fiddle and Rubin's clawhammer banjo only.
Klezmer At The Confluence is sub-titled Jewish Music From Sacramento. As with the Freilachmakers' previous And I In The Uttermost West, this album maintains a strong sense of place as well as of identity. While the confluence of the title literally refers to the confluence of the Sacramento and the American rivers, whereupon the Freilachmakers' base of Sacramento is situated, it can also be taken as a reference to the "confluence" of the many cultures and ethnicities that came together there since the California gold rush of 1849. Thus, it also serves as a metaphor for the music of the Freilachmakers Klezmer String Band, essentially Jewish music, from a variety of traditions, that's also strongly informed by other musical traditions, in particular, Old Time string band music.
The selection of material on Klezmer At The Confluence, as eclectic as ever, is simply outstanding and includes many well-known klezmer and Chassidic favourites as well as a few lesser known melodies, and the Ladino songs are likewise a good mix between the well- and lesser known. All are absolutely delightful and enchanting. The same has to be said for the four originals, fine outstanding compositions every one.
While it would not be practical to go into detail for every track on this generous album, special mention must be made of Freilachs fun L.A. While the Freilachmakers are never less than inventive and original, this is particularly innovative in marrying an old freylekh (aka Bulgar) with an excerpt from Jacques Offenbach's can-can from Orpheus In The Underworld. This is a considerably toned-down can-can, perhaps the most subtle, even almost subdued, that you're ever likely to hear, while still maintaining a certain exuberance. The effect is just delightful, and extremely witty, even comical. A marriage with a lot of fun and no strife!
Yet again, the Freilachmakers have delivered a thoroughly consistent and cohesive album without a single weak track. Moreover, Klezmer At The Confluence with all its exuberance as well as balladic tenderness is an enchanting, compelling delight. The Freilachmakers, while not even a full-time band, can firmly lay claim with this album to still being one of the most original and innovative bands taking traditional Jewish musical forms, and in particular klezmer, forward into new territory.
Klezmer At The Confluence is a joy. Music for the heart, feet and soul from the heart. You'll want to play this album over and over again.
The Freilachmakers Klezmer String Band's Klezmer At The Confluence is a must-have for any genuine aficionado of any form of Jewish music and has something to offer to everybody, regardless of which tradition you come from. It must be considered essential in any good Jewish music collection, whether klezmer, contemporary or Sephardi. At the same time, Klezmer At The Confluence should find a very happy place in any good general world music collection. It is only to be hoped that we won't have to wait another five years for another Freilachmakers album.
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