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A Broodingly Gorgeous New Album From Klezmer Innovators Shtreiml

Shtreiml have been taking the klezmer tradition to unexpected and interesting new places for a long time. Their latest album Har Meron is just out and streaming at Bandcamp. It’s a suite of sorts, a dynamic, often pensive theme and variations that draws on many styles from across the Jewish diaspora, jazz, Balkan and latin music.

Frontman Jason Rosenblatt builds minor-key suspense and majesty at the piano in the overture, trombonist Rachel Lemisch’s vivid, brooding resonance over Josh Fink’s bass and Thierry Arsenault’s flurrrying drums. Trumpeter Alexis French and saxophonist Tevet Sela take lyrical turns out in front of the band in the rather stern, pulsing variation that follows

Rosenblatt breaks out his signature instrument (shtreiml is the Yiddish word for harmonica) in the understatedly stark nigun that follows, percussionist Bertil Schulrabe providing a slinky Middle Eastern-tinged undercurrent. Then they pick up the pace with a lively, southern Balkan-flavored linedance tune, a hazy, hypnotic bridge at the center.

Rosenblatt keeps that misty, bucolic ambience going in the next number as the horns play an elegant, ancient-sounding theme spiced with doublestops. Lemisch leads the group with a melismatic grace through a variation on the title theme, Rosenblatt’s piano adding eerie glitter, up to a rapturous intertwine between the horns. Then Sela takes a turn out front as the group strut and swing with an allusively chromatic, Serbian tinge.

There’s barely suppressed joy in the pulsing horn piece afterward. Rosenblatt’s gracefully ornamented harmonica lines sail over the muted, slinky groove that follows. The album’s most epic track is also its most enigmatic and lithely jazz-oriented, Sela taking the album’s most intricately energetic solo.

They wind up the record with a trickily rhythmic, cleverly voiced dance, the sax finallly reaching for the rafters, and a  brisk, brassy sirba to close on a high note. It’s an apt coda for an album marked by reserve and thoughtful, dusky tunesmithing rather than the unleashed wildness of so many klezmer party bands.

Intense, Slyly Shapeshifting Middle Eastern Jamband Shtreiml Hits the Upper West Side

Shtreiml are one of the world’s most darkly exhilarating and distinctive jambands. There is no group anywhere who sound anything like them. Their signature sound – a psychedelic, funky, sometimes phantasmagorical circus rock mashup that updates traditional Jewish and Turkish melodies from across the centuries – is highlighted by Jason Rosenblatt’s spiraling harmonica and Ismail Fencioglu’s rippling, often savagely incisive oud. Rosenblatt is famous for being being one of the few harmonica virtuosos who can play the standard diatonic blues harp like a chromatic harp – think the rustic, otherworldly overtones of Little Walter or Howlin’ Wolf rather than Dave Matthews. Fencioglu is just as adrenalizing, and provides a more somber, often haunting counterpart to Rosenblatt’s sizzling riffage. They’re playing a rare New York show on Dec 16 at 7:30 PM in the basement at Stephen Wise Free Synagogue, 30 W. 68th St. (Columbus/CPW). Cover is $15 and if serious jams or killer Middle Eastern music is your thing, you would be crazy to miss this.

Their amazing latest album, Eastern Hora, is just out: the whole thing isn’t streaming at any single spot, but what’s up at the band’s Sonicbids, Soundcloud and Youtube channels will give you a good idea of what’s on it. It kicks off with Grand Theft Stutinki, a deliriously dancing mashup of Acadian and possibly Macedonian themes that sounds like a more rhythmically tricky take on Hazmat Modine, with a more Middle Eastern intensity. Chassidl pour les Bâtards hits a swaying groove – what a trip it is to hear a slithery harmonica play a creepy, slinky Turkish melody, the horns doubling the oud perfectly, Avi Fox-Rosen adding resonant, growling electric guitar.

A take of the traditional Turkish tune Ciftetelli gets more of a Frankensteinian lope than other bands typically give it, with a surpisingly balmy midsection before the intertwining harmonica and oud join with the rest of the band – Rachel Lemisch’s pinpoint-precise trombone, Joel Kerr’s bass and Thierry Arsenault’s drums. After Party Freilach makes swaying, chromatically charged wah funk out of an apprehensive klezmer theme, with bluesy lowrider trombone.

A Saturday Evening Blues turns out to be a slow, slinky, suspenseful minor-key oud theme lowlit by Kerr’s misterioso bass and Lemisch’s forlorn trombone. Abou Khalil’s sets lively upbeat trombone and harmonica over a bubbly, rhythmically shapeshifting undercurrent. Raurys Spielt works a tongue-in-cheek, minor-key vaudevillian pulse, a feature for marching trombone and Rosenblat’s ragtime-infused piano.

Rosenblatt plays the sad waltz The Old Mill solo on piano – it might or might not be a requiem for rust belt Quebec. Then Fencioglu and Rosenblatt’s enigmatic lines harmonize on the brooding, wintry Waltz Azoi. The album hits a noir peak with the fiery, swaying title track, Fox-Rosen’s eerrie, twangy guitar anchoring a blazing, horn-fueled funeral march. By contrast, Rosenblatt’s solo piano piece Lullaby for Halleli blends Erik Satie and klezmer tonalities into a starlit, Lynchian waltz. What a darkly gorgeous mix of songs – you’ll see this on the Best Albums of 2014 page here in a couple of weeks.