Beats Without Borders
The Red Hot Chachka's most recent album, Beats Without Borders, was released in 2010. Hailing from the SF Bay Area, the Red Hot Chachkas are another of the innovative bands to have emerged from the Northern California klezmer scene. Led by violinist Julie Egger, their line-up on this album also includes Glenn Hartman, the accordionist and leader of one of the zaniest of klezmer bands, the New Orleans Klezmer All Stars.
With Beats Without Borders, the Red Hot Chachkas are certainly pushing the envelope to an astonishing extent. They are firmly positioning themselves for the general world music market here, as indeed the title might already suggest, and that is a very positive thing in itself. While adhering to traditional klezmer forms, with a deep love and understanding of and respect for the tradition, the Chachkas explore a wide range of 'genre bending' and they also incorporate improvisation. The genre bending extends to incorporating elements of Latin, jazz, and even popular music, and beyond.
Not only that, with Beats Without Borders the Red Hot Chachkas very courageously and enterprisingly present an album consisting entirely of originals - not a single traditional klezmer standard within hearing. They are not only keeping the tradition alive, but extending it considerably with their excellent compositions.
On Stepping Out, the Chachkas move slightly into calypso territory with a fine clarinet tune that's highly reminiscent of the traditional calypso of the 1950s/60s. Here I must take slight issue with the sleeve notes which refer to 'the islands' in this context. While the calypso form did spread to other anglophone islands of the eastern Caribbean, its proper home is Trinidad and Tobago, whose exponents of the genre have never been equalled elsewhere. The name, incidentally, derives from the Trinidadian term kaiso. (The American term 'the islands' when referring to the islands of the Caribbean is somewhat unfortunate anyway in that it smacks of neo-colonialism, even if not intentional which I'm sure it was not here.)
That out of the way, Stepping Out is an utterly enchanting and infectious track with its mix of what is basically a sher (a traditional Eastern European Jewish dance form) with that enticing touch of calypso in the clarinet. However, it would be difficult to single out any particular favourites on Beats Without Borders. Each track has its own particular strengths and attractions. Nonetheless, one more track needs special comment here. Dancin' On The Creekside seems to display some quite unexpected, and most likely, wholly unconscious and unintentional but all the same enchanting, Carnatic (South Indian) 'influences', especially in the violin. Highly reminiscent of certain fusion recordings of a few decades ago by Indian violinist L. Subramaniam, without the latter's repetitiveness. Conversation from the album Conversations (c. 1984) with Stephane Grappelli immediately springs to mind... Probably one of those déjà vu moments...
The musicianship of the Red Hot Chachkas throughout is superb and beyond question and they are evidently a highly empathic band. In their inventiveness they remind at once of fellow Northern Californian band The Freilachmakers Klezmer String Band and The New Orleans Klezmer All Stars, although their style and direction is entirely their own.
This album may come as something of a surprise to many klezmer aficionados, but I'm sure that it will grow even on hardcore traditional klezmer fans. Beats Without Borders is a delightful and highly enjoyable album, full of charm, wit, and originality that quickly proves irresistible with its irrepressible grooves. It clearly will prove attractive to the widest possible range of world music listeners. Klezmer fusion at its sublime best! Think of Beats Without Borders as a musical journey of discovery and you're bound to enjoy a quite extraordinary trip!
As a bonus, if you buy the CD (fortunately, you can easily avoid Amazon's rather steep prices here) rather than the digital downloads, you'll get an excellent double gatefold rather than the dreaded jewel case. In fact, the first thing that strikes one looking at the cover is that one instantly feels taken back to the 1960s. (For rather obvious reasons, vaguely - those of us who were there don't really remember much of it!) The cover consists of excellent artwork that just shouts out the influence of 60s psychedelia and works superbly. The photographs of the band on the back and inside are actually in focus. (All too often alas they are not these days.) If there's one problem I have with the sleeve notes it's the text. This would be so much easier to read if either the background colour was just a shade or so lighter, or the text itself in a more contrasting light colour. Not an issue with 20/20 vision I dare say.
The Red Hot Chachkas' Beats Without Borders is a most delightful discovery that'll also prove irresistible to the feet. Essential in any good modern klezmer or general world music collection. Without a doubt this is going to remain a long term favourite here.
© 2011 Rainlore's World of Music/Rainlore. All rights reserved.