I had to post this…no video, sorry. I was asked to write an article about klezmer recently, and to get up to date on what is happening in the current scene, I asked Frank London (who was gigging overseas) to send me an update. His letter was so informative that I felt it was worth posting here.
Report on the state of klezmer in 2012:
Next week, the venerable old institution Workmen’s Cicle/Arbeter Ring (the prototype of the Occupy movement and a clear supporter of the 99%) will present a concert in Central Park: “YiddishFest 2012: SInging for a Better World”. This concert, along with the National Yiddish Book Center & Seth Rogovoy’s Yidstock, are watersheds for assessing today’s Yiddish/klezmer music scene. Which is happening in unprecedented ways.
The inspiration for “YiddishFest 2012: SInging for a Better World” is Adrienne Cooper, one of the first generation of klezmer/Yiddish revival singers, who passed away this year. Her absolute love of the roots of our tradition combined with the necessity of keeping it alive and vital are at the heart of what we all do; all credit goes to Adrienne. She inspired us all to love the tradition, to make it modern and, more important, personal, and to use our music to try and change the world: tikkun olam. She is missed.
What “YiddishFest 2012: SInging for a Better World” does is show how, over the last years, the separation between Yiddish and klezmer has been lifted. Today’s artists see that the culture language, music & poetry are all one, and they integrate them all. Amongst those performing at “YiddishFest 2012: SInging for a Better World” are the Klezmatics, at 26 years one of the older groups in the scene. The Klezmatics, the only Jewish music Grammy-award winners, will perform both their brand of traditional/modern klezmer music and in addition perform with kosher gospel singer, Joshua Nelson. This underscores 4 of the dominant trends in contemporary klezmer music:
- playing the music in its older forms;
- using the older music to inspire new klezmer music;
- integrating klezmer & Yiddish into the larger Jewish music world
- blending klezmer & Yiddish with outside musical elements.
Here is a highly incomplete and too- brief list of some of what is happening these days, in the second decade of the 21st century. So much amazing Jewish music — all at the highest quality imaginable.
Talking of playing the music in its older forms, the award for most hyper – traditional appropriation art klezmer band goes to Amit Weisberger’s Belf’s Orkestar Project, recreating (down to the ornamental nuances & 78 surface noise) the recordings of the seminal European klezmer band, Belf’s Rumanian Orkestra. There is the Tarras Band with old stars Pete Sokolov, David Licht & Jim Guttmann and young ones Michael Winograd & Ben Holmes. Mother / daughter modern traditionalists Susan Watts and Elaine Hoffman both have new releases. And in a parallel scene, old school Ashkenazic cantorial music – hazonos – is seeing a revival, with Yanky Lemmer and Yaakov Stark singing like it’s 1929.
Using the older music to inspire new klezmer music: Veretski Pass’ Klezmer Shul sounds ontologically like a European 1930′s klezmer band but the new music, rooted in the old, is totally new & progressive. 2012 also sees the release of Christian Dawid’s recent recording of 90-something year old Ukrainian Yiddish singer/songwriter, Arkady Gendler; and the release of the Hasidic New Wave’s complete box set on Tzadik records, documenting their ongoing use of traditional Hasidic nigunim as a source for free Jazz.
The comradeship of Jewish and Gypsy / Roma musicians is explored by many artists including Frank London’s Klezmer Brass Allstars’ collaboration with Boban Morcovic Orkestar, “Brotherhood of Brass”; by Alan Bern’s “Other Europeans”, Bob Cohen’s Naye Kapelye, and in all the work by young virtuoso Jake Shulmen-Ment’s mining of East European fiddle traditions.
So much new Jewish music is coming from the “Brooklyn scene”: Michael Winograd, Benjy & Avi Fox-Rosen, Richie Barshay, Matt Darriau, Jessica Lurie, Patty Farrell, Sarah Gordon, Ben Holmes, etc. Winograd produced (and everyone played on) Adrienne Cooper’s amazing recording “Enchanted”, and Michael’s new cd is about to be released.
Benjy Fox-Rosen is only one of many artists using Yiddish poetry to inspire new work. His amazing settings of Gibirtig’s poetry will be released this summer. Other great poetry music projects include Henri Oppenheim’s work with Montreal Yiddish poets, Basya Schaechter’s Heschel settings, Deb Strauss’ Kadya Maladovska Feminist Fidl project, and Jake Marmer’s Jazz Talmud which blends his original poetry with composed and improvised music from NYC’s Lower East Side radical Jewish music stalwarts Frank London, Rabbi Greg Wall, Eyal Maoz & Uri Sharlin. All of those artists and many more are part of the new Ayn Sof Arkestra. Paul Shapiro & Steven Bernstein mine the American-Jewish treasure trove with releases such as Essn, Midnight Minyan, and the Diaspora series. Also part of the offshoots of John Zorn’s group Masada and Radical Jewish Music label are a slew of new Jewish music artists and groups: Pitom, Eyal Maoz, Yoshi Fruchter and many more. Jon Madof is starting up ZION 80, fusing Fela & Carlebach.
New klezmer & yiddish is thriving around the globe: Argentina’s Moguilevsky & Lerner are changing the way we hear klezmer; a thriving Israeli scene includes Kruzenshtern & Parohod (their style is branded “klezmercore”), Marsh Dondurma, and Oy Division; Russia rocks with OPA, Psoy Korelenko, Naye Khovitchy, DobraNotch; Lithuania has Arkady Gottesman’s many projects and Latvia features up and coming superstars Sasha Luria & Ilya Shneeweis. In Germany, Dan Kahn is leading a new/old Yiddish revolution.
Then there are all the older klezmer musicians who continue to put out bigger and better projects:
Dan Kahn, Michael Alpert, Psoy Korelenko & Bob Cohen celebrate the recordings of the legendary Prince Nazerof. David Krakauer is touring the world with “Abraham Inc.” featuring legendary James Brown/ P-Funk trombonist Fred Wesley and Josh Dolgin (aka SoCalled), who continues to fuse hiphop & klezmer beats. Frank London’s “A Night in the Old Marketplace” is a multi-media theater/ song cycle that has performed to sold out shows throughout the world. And KCB founder Hankus Netsky is collaborating with Itzhak Perlman and Cantor Helfgot on a new program of cantorial music.
As Artistic Director of KlezKanada, a week-long Yiddish cultural arts music and language retreat, I can attest to the fact that the Yiddish & klezmer musical world has never been this strong. There are more than five times as many artists and bands of the highest quality than I have the room to hire as faculty and performers (and we have almost 50 faculty members).
…and that’s just the tip of the Goldberg (“Iceberg, Goldberg.. it’s all the same.”)
Frank London, June 2012
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