Yiddish For Travelers - Cosmopolitan Klezmer
Metropolitan Klezmer's debut CD album, Yiddish For Travelers, was first released in 1998 and re-issued in 2000 on the Rhythm Media label.
If Maxwell Street Klezmer Band brought eclecticism on a grand scale to big band klezmer music, then Metropolitan Klezmer does the same to small to medium band klezmer, in its very own distinct way. Metropolitan Klezmer presents a truly cosmopolitan blend of traditional klezmer tunes, Chassidic nigunim and khosidls, Yiddish song, Balkan and Greek and Sephardi elements, as well as jazz. The traditional is blended very carefully and effectively with the contemporary, the old with the new. The arrangements on Yiddish For Travelers, credited variously to individual band members or several, or the band itself, are outstanding, even elegant, and in spite of their varying authorship remarkably cohesive.
Metropolitan Klezmer prove themselves an incredibly versatile band on Yiddish For Travelers, aided perhaps in part by the very wide-ranging musical backgrounds of the members, which span Cajun and zydeco to jazz and classical, including opera. The musicianship is impeccable, technical mastery is taken for granted, and everybody is evidently very well attuned to one another as an ensemble. The band not only take great pride in what they do and doing it with excellence, but also do so with great exuberance and flair.
Eve Sicular, the founder and leader of Metropolitan Klezmer, reveals herself to be an outstanding drummer, with some very fine and highly inventive drumming (and it must be admitted here that as a rule, in most klezmer music, drummers are usually anywhere from adequate to perfectly competent, but are rarely if ever given much of a chance to shine). Yet at the same time, she shows sufficient restraint to not dominate and get in the way of the music. This is a very difficult, delicate balance to achieve, particularly where the bandleader happens to be the drummer, but Ms. Sicular achieves it with seeming great ease and certainly style.
Eclecticism and cosmopolitanism also manifest themselves in the instrumental palette of Metropolitan Klezmer. Violinist Michael Hess also "doubles" on kanun (also transliterated as qanun, a Middle Eastern zither) and ney (an end-blown Middle Eastern reed flute) as well as viola, and acquits himself admirably on all of them. Eve Sicular plays frame drums in addition to her conventional kit. Accordionist Ismael Butera doubles on bendir (also a type of frame drum) also. Steve Elson switches between Bb clarinet, bass clarinet, soprano and tenor sax, and flute. Bassist Dave Hofstra also doubles on tuba. The team is completed by Deborah Karpel, vocal, and Pam Fleming on trumpet and flugelhorn.
Yiddish For Travelers is an incredibly tight album, the tracks being consistently excellent throughout and forming a nicely cohesive whole. This is music with heart, soul and ear, for heart, soul and ear, and for the feet as well. While there isn't a single weak track, certain highlights bear pointing out. Mangiko/Yoshke Fort Avek combines two versions of the same tune, shared by two different traditions. First, a rendition in the Greek Rebetica style, then in the Ashkenazi style of Eastern Europe. Both share the same highly effective and simple, elegant instrumentation of kanun, accordion, bass and drums. Michael Hess excels on kanun here and only makes one wish this instrument with its seductive sound had been used more widely. On Sheyn vi di Levone, Deborah Karpel shows her mettle as an excellent Yiddish singer, superbly offset by Steve Elson's swinging, jazzy soprano sax, which again surfaces, this time to lead, to superb effect on Yosl, Yosl. The almost obligatory favourite, Der Gasn Nigun, trades off leads among clarinet, trumpet, viola, and accordion, interspersed with fine ensemble playing and solidly grounded by gorgeous tuba playing. Metropolitan Raisins is a brilliant jazz rendition of Abraham ("Father of the Yiddish Theatre") Goldfaden's classic lullaby Rozhinkes Mit Mandlen (a straight rendition of which precedes the former) from his 1880 operetta, Shulamis. This baby rocks! Steve Elson's fine tenor sax makes you wish for an extended improv here. The next track, Oy Tate, a khosidl or chassidic tune, contrasts with a superbly elegant Middle Eastern arrangement and likewise instrumentation of ney, bass and bendir. Again, one is left to wish for more of Michael Hess' ney! Der Miropoler Rebe's Nigun & Dybbuk March, the former based on a chassidic meditative tune intended to induce an ecstatic state and sense of connection to the Creator, closes the album with a wonderful treat in the form of a sublime bass clarinet, and what's more, a bass clarinet lead, complemented by a restrained voiceless chorus in the first part of this track.
The liner notes are very informative, and include the lyrics for songs in Yiddish, romanised Yiddish, as well as English translation by Eve Sicular. What's more, the notes for each track also include full listing of personnel as well as instrumentation.
Metropolitan Klezmer excel on their debut album, Yiddish For Travelers. It is hugely enjoyable, and I hardly know how I got by without it for so long!
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