Some musicians reach a point in their careers where, feeling satisfied for the time being with the innovations they have wrought, they go back, even temporarily, to their roots. Pianist Keith Jarrett starts playing jazz standards; Indigo Girls produce an all-acoustic recording; and the Klezmatics, on their CD titled Possessed, return to a somewhat more traditional klezmer sound.
Which is not to say that Possessed, a reissue of their 1997 recording from Xenophile, doesn't find the Klezmatics as creative and as spirited as ever. Starting with a lively sing-along, an adaptation of a Gypsy song called Shprayz ikh mir, the band carves out quite a trad-sounding groove, spurred on by Lorin Sklamberg's expressive lead vocals. Following that is a swinging traditional dance number: energetic, and displaying tight, soaring ensemble work-but decidedly trad.
Not until the third track, an original piece called Moroccan Game, does the band start to both rock out and space out. (Think of the Grateful Dead performing Dark Star with clarinet and accordion.) And once we reach a song like Mizmor shir lehanef (Reefer Song), all sense of tradition has wafted out the window like pungent smoke. Sung in Yiddish, the song includes lyrics which translate into English as,
Okay, so not exactly a tune that was sung at your grandparents' wedding party. But in this way, the Klezmatics range between traditional and contemporary terrains.
Interestingly enough, they are at their most ambitious in a suite that takes up half the cd. A Dybbuk is their score for Pulitzer-Prize-winner Tony Kushner's theatrical adaptation of a classic Yiddish drama. Though most of the music is original, it has quite a rootsy sound to it, and runs the spectrum of emotion, from the ghostly to the exultant.
Finally, mention should be made of An Undoing World, a song sung in English with words by Kushner (but separate from the Dybbuk suite). It is a poignant, tender, yet courageous song about global Diaspora, whether religious, cultural, or sexual. With lyrics such as these—
The story of Jewish dispossession is as old as history. The Klezmatics, in reclaiming their heritage and resurrecting it in music both old and new, do indeed become "possessed," in every sense of the word. In returning home, they go ecstatically delirious. And this is the music they play.
The Klezmatics are:
Page design by David N. Pyles