Klezmer Music For a Chinatown Street Fair and the Horror Show in Canada

by delarue

One of New York’s most unusual and enjoyable street festivals is happening today in Chinatown. That neighborhood doesn’t have many, because pretty much every day is a street fair down there. This one is on Eldridge between Division and Canal, outside the Eldridge Street Synagogue. The music starts at noon with iconic klezmer trumpeter  Frank London‘s Klezmer Brass All Stars, followed by the  Klezmographers with violinist Eleonore Biezunski and tsimbl player Pete Rushefsky, and then flutist Chen Tao and his Melody of the Dragon  Chinese traditional ensemble playing lively, verdant pentatonic folk songs. This blog was in the house (or more accurately. under the eaves across the street) to catch their set here four years ago and it was a lot of fun.

The Klezmographers, who specialize in obscure Ukrainian klezmer repertoire, are also fun. The last time anyone from this blog was at one of Rushefsky’s shows, it was at a gig at the now-discontinued Friday night concert series at the American Folk Art Museum back in 2014. Memory is a little hazy on whether it was an actual Klezmographers gig, or Rushefsky with his flutist wife: that night turned out to be a pretty wild one.

Rushefsky put out a handful of records back in the zeros with his Ternkova Ensemble. The most recent album he appears on is Toronto group KlezFactor‘s new Songs From a Pandemic Winter, streaming at Bandcamp.

The first song is Mardi Gras Fever Dream, with Mike Anklewicz’s soaring tenor sax, Jarek Dabrowski’s chicken-scratch guitar, Paul Georgiou’s clip-clop hand drum and Ali Berkok’s roller-rink organ fueling a playfully surreal mashup of Balkan cumbia, New Orleans second-line jazz and Eastern European Jewish folk music.

Rushefsky’s somberly rippling tsimbl opens Lake Michigan Klezmer Fantasy, Anklewicz switching to clarinet alongside Kousha Nakhaei’s violin for this wistful theme: Canadians have had an awful lot to mourn lately. Third Wave Lockdown opens with a twisted sample of Fidel Jr. reading from his World Economic Forum handler Chrystia Freedland’s script. Then Graham Smith’s snappy bass kicks in, Anklewicz launches into a peppy clarinet tune, and Jarek Dabrowski channels David Gilmour at his most majestic. Just like the truckers, these guys aren’t going to let fascism get them down!

Nakhaei plays what sounds like a stark chinese erhu in the polyrhythmic Winter’s Groove, as the band shift from cumbia to a bit of what sounds like a bulgar dance, to dub reggae. Singer Melanie Gall brings somberness but also a soaring, hopeful vibe to a final waltz, Oyfn Veg Shteyt a Boym, a spare, vivid arrangement of a chilling parable of exile and improbable escape. In 2022, this song couldn’t be more relevant. May we all fare better than that withered tree in the Yiddish lyrics.