Beyond the PaleBorealis BCD134
A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
Oy klezmer, the musical voice of a people's soul, expressing the many joys, sorrows, strengths, and tribulations of Judaism. With its roots in eastern Europe, and its tendrils reaching out to the synagogues and vaudeville houses of the New World, klezmer speaks of both celebration and sadness: celebration in its exuberant rhythms and dance tunes, and sadness in its minor keys and in the wistful strains of the "doina," or song of lament. Thus klezmer encompasses the entire Jewish history; one can imagine a kind of Ur-klezmer played around the evening campfires during the Exodus. I am not Jewish, I have no ethnic claim to klezmer and have no business using the word "oy." But such is the spirit of klezmer that anyone who loves it, regardless of their heritage, can relate. |
It would seem klezmer music is enjoying a second renaissance of late. The first occurred in the 1970s, when such bands as the Klezmorim and the Klezmer Conservatory Band rediscovered the music their grandfathers had performed at weddings and bar mitzvahs, and offered it to a wider audience. Since the 1990s, the second renaissance has consisted of younger bands reinterpreting the traditional melodies, composing their own tunes, and fusing klezmer with jazz, rock, blues, and other forms of world music, creating what has been described by some as "acid klez" and "tribal Jewish funk." Granted, such music (which I like to call "klusion") can potentially adulterate an otherwise rich, vigorous form. But at best, it creates some playful, wonderful new sounds, as "Beyond the does so masterfully on their first cd, Routes. Indeed, their title toys with the idea of klezmer as their "roots" music, while steering it along new and varied "routes."
Based in Toronto, Beyond the Pale was founded in 1998 by Eric Stein, who plays mandolin and tsimbl (hammered dulcimer), and includes Anne Lindsay on violin, Sasha Luminsky on accordion, Martin van de Ven on clarinets, and Brett Higgins on upright bass. Collectively, the ensemble has backgrounds in jazz, classical, rock, folk, country, and bluegrass, and much of this diverse influence is evident on Routes. For instance, a piece like ChasenJah, the title of which combines the Yiddish word for wedding with the Rastafari name for God, starts out as a klezmer-reggae hybrid, slow and slinky (think of a yarmulke worn over dreadlocks), before breaking out into a faster, more trad klezmer dance piece. Bulcharescu likewise is propelled by a funky Middle-eastern rhythm thanks to guest percussionist Rick Lazar. And Gyration, a holdover from the band's early days as a "new-grass" fusion band, contains elements of funk, jazz, and rock along with the klez.
But there is plenty of traditional-sounding klezmer on Routes as well. Indeed, some of the original compositions, such as Eavesdropping and Agnia, are practically indistinguishable from genuinely traditional tunes. Roumanian Fantasy, propelled by guest guitarist Dan Goldman, is absolutely haunting. And two songs, Vander Ich Mir Lustig and Vodka, explore the more theatrical elements of klezmer, ably assisted by the versatile-indeed, schmaltzy-tenor of guest vocalist Dave Wall.
Throughout, the musicians of Beyond the Pale play with grace and style. In their hands, klezmer is not a dead, ethnomusicological oddity, but a living and evolving music that they perform with gusto and sheer joy. Of particular note is Anne Lindsay's violin work, which can evoke a Jewish wedding one minute and a moonlit Caribbean beach the next. And rarely, if ever, have I heard accordion-playing with such flare as Sasha Luminsky's. Who knew an accordion could make such sounds?
In short, the klezmer on Routes is most decidedly not the sort of music you'd have heard at bar mitzvahs. But somewhere down the road, say at your grandson's bar mitzvah, maybe the hired band will be doing klusion covers by Beyond the Pale.