Jews with Horns
by Lindsay Cobb
The good news from the Klezmatics is: klezmer fusion can sound like nothing you've ever heard before and still sound unmistakably like klezmer. Their CD, "Jews with Horns," is stellar proof of this. Originally released in 1995, and now re-issued on the Rounder label, Jews with Horns takes daring risks, takes long round-the-world voyages, soars and swirls like the people in a Chagall painting, and yet stays firmly rooted in the klezmer tradition. It is klezmer fusion (or "klusion") as high art, and you'll get high all right.
Together for over a decade, the individual members of the Klezmatics hail from diverse musical backgrounds, everything from the Klezmer Conservatory Band, to Shockabilly, to back- up for Robert Plant and Jimmy Page. As the Klezmatics, they have performed the world over, getting their first big break in Germany (more than one commentator has noted the irony); they have collaborated with the likes of violinist Itzhak Perlman, Israeli chanteuse Chava Albertstein, and playwright Tony Kushner; and they have been featured on public television, Letterman, and MTV. Reviewers have used such phrases as "soul-stirring Jewish roots music for the 21st century" (worldmusicportal.com) and "these folks are scary good" (Ari Davidow at klezmershack.com).
(As for klezmer: I could go on and on. Its roots lie in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, and its shoots and leaves were watered and fed in the synagogues and vaudeville houses of New York. Raucous and danceable, mournful and wistful, it is a Jewish music that can stir you regardless of your heritage. More traditional klezmer groups include the aforementioned Klezmer Conservatory Band and the Klezmorim, if you want to check out real roots.)
As for the Klezmatics, Jews with Horns finds them at one of their most playful, innovative moments. From the funky groove of Khsidim Tants, to the sultry, rocking Fisherlid; from the silly and rambunctious Man in a Hat, which weds new lyrics to a traditional melody, to the plaintive, wordless song Nign, a traditional-sounding tune composed by lead vocalist Lorin Sklamberg; from In Kamf, a popular Yiddish labor song from the turn of the last century, to The Kiss, a sing-along inspired by an ACT-UP "kiss-in" in New York-the Klezmatics seem determined to explore all nuances of klezmer, making it brand new as surely as they keep it grounded in tradition. To experience these "Jews with horns" (and fiddle, and accordion, and keyboards, and electric guitar, and bass, and drums) is to experience a music that is as exciting and heartfelt now as it was when our great-grandparents first danced to it. If you have not heard the Klezmatics, or are interested in learning more about klezmer, then Jews with Horns is an excellent introduction to the band and their boisterous, fun-loving, passionate music.