Klezwoods Puts Out a Wild, Intense, Lush New Album
Klezwoods’ new album is a blast, plain and simple. If you like one haunting melody after another, this is for you. In the spirit of the dozens of gypsy and gypsy-punk bands that have sprung up in this century, Klezwoods are taking Jewish music in the same direction. What they do can be wild, but it’s also lush and often pensive – as the music of the gypsies often is. Their new album, The 30th Meridian – From Cairo to St. Petersburg With Love – is as informed as much by jazz as it is by any other style, including wildly successful diversions into Macedonian, Serbian, Egyptian, Greek and Jamaican music. The ten-piece band’s lineup is slightly expanded from last time around, with – are you ready for this – Joe Kessler on violin, Sam Dechenne (of John Brown’s Body) on trumpet, Jim Gray on tuba, Grant Smith on drums, Greg Loughman on bass, Michael McLaughlin (of Naftule’s Dream) on accordion, exotica and cimbalom jazz genius Brian O’Neill on percussion, Alec Spiegelman (of Miss Tess’ band the Bon Temps Parade) on clarinet and sax and Tev Stevig on electric guitar and oud, plus Becky Wexler on clarinet and vocals and Daniel Linden on trombone.
Wexler is training to be a cantor – and what a great destination for her. What a voice! Her wounded, unselfconsciously soulful alto and also her chillingly lyrical, crystalline clarinet grace a traditional song simply titled Shoes, which begins as a brooding, sad Russian waltz and quickly travels to the dramatic place where Bollywood meets the Jewish diaspora. The first track is characteristically catchy but edgy, balancing the tuba at the bottom,clarinet at the top, trilling uneasy trumpet playing call-and-response with the ensemble, Egyptian style over clip-clop percussion. After that, Dechenne’s Egypt Trip goes scurrying up to a Middle Eastern crescendo, his psychedelic trumpet (go figure, duh!) breaking it down before it comes back, stately and intense.
Kessler’s scurrying violin solo hands off to Spiegelman, who hands off to the rest of the band in turn on the wickedly fun Harmonika. Likewise, voices alternate throughout the band over O’Neill’s hard-hitting drums on the Balkan-flavored Hot Wheels. A Glass of Wine, a reggae arrangment of a traditional klezmer tune, features more rapidfire, intense clarinet.
Brass Belly, a tricky Serbian-tinged tune, layers cool clarinet over a flutter brass pulse and Stevig’s absolutely amazing electric oud before the violin takes it up with a spin. Play to Win, by Stevig, a wickedly catchy, unpredictably shapeshifting song features Stevig’s guitar doing all kinds of wild spiraling phrases. After the brisk, biting oompah clarinet tune Pick Up and Go, they follow with the album’s best song, Charambe, also by Stevig. A wicked blend of 60s style psychedelic rock and klezmer, it sounds like the Electric Prunes, Stevig bending his notes to their logical (or illogical) extremes.
What’s left here? A couple of rapidfire, jauntily defiant, accordion-fueled romps, one of them by Loughman; an absolutely joyous shout-out to Israeli music; and an unexpectedly quiet wee-hours scenario to close out the album. Who is the audience for this? Anyone who loves gypsy music, or Middle Eastern music, or the klezmer repertoire. It used to be that klezmer was a gateway drug to gypsy music, now it’s vice versa. Two diasporas, two styles worshipped by people whose ancestors frequently held this music in contempt. And one of the best albums of 2012. Klezwoods plays the cd release show at Spike Hill on a killer doublebill on Sept 8 at around 9, followed by excellent skaragga band Karikatura. Klezwoods are also at City Winery for the weekly klezmer brunch at around half past eleven the following morning, Sept 9 – yikes!