Klezmer Katch-up: May 8, 1998

Quite some time ago, my friend Simon at Hatikvah Music International sent me some Klezmer and other assorted Jewish CDs for my opinion. They are from a variety of artists and musical styles, and I would like to dedicate this installment of my reviews to them.

Joel Rubin and Rita Ottens are two of the foremost authorities on Jewish musical history. Joel himself is a well-known and respected Klezmer musician (the word Klezmer itself meaning "musician"). The two of them researched and compiled three formidable CD collections, tracing Klezmer from the early part of this century, to the modern times. Yikhes (Yiddish for "lineage") is the first of the collections, compiled from the collection of Prof. Martin Schwartz. Winner of the Deutsch Schallplatten Kritik prize, even though it's a CD you can hear all of the authentic poppings and cracklings scattered throughout the earliest known recordings of Naftule Brandwein, Dave Tarras, and other legendary musicians.

Doyres ("generations") is the second in the series, and is acollection of traditional klezmer recordings from 1979-1994. It's a thorough 18 tracks demonstraing how even relatively recent Klezmer acts utilize the traditional sounds and instrumentations of those who came before. A third in the series, Shteygers, is contemporary Klezmer but was not available for review.

According to Simon, last year's best-selling Klezmer album came was the self-titled album from the Machaya Klezmer Band. With both traditional and contemporary pieces, the energetic feel perfectly captures the essence of Klezmer with freilachs (a dance commonly performed at Jewish weddings), bulgars (another kind of dance music), and even a slow one thrown in every now and then.

Fortuna is the shining star of Sephardic Jewish music, Sephardic being the Jewish culture originating in Morocco and Spain. Cantigas is a Latin/Middle Eastern sounding album full of Ladino lyrics (a mix of Spanish and Hebrew, as opposed to Yiddish which is a mix of Hebrew and German). It's exotic and exhilarating at the same time.

Manfred Lemm is a German schlager musician from Germany who isn't even Jewish, but who performs the work of Mordechaj Gebirtig on Gehat hob ich a hejm. Gebirtig was a Jewish songwriter who perished in the death camps of Krakau. These songs are melancholy and all in Yiddish -- underscored by Lemm's thick German accent.

One of the classics of Jewish music is the Barry Sisters' Their Greatest Yiddish Hits. The beautiful siblings perform such Yiddish standards as "Hava Nagila" in both English and Yiddish.

Songs of Solomon is an important part of the Jewish Bible. Ethnomusicologst Suzanne Haïk-Vantoura believes to have decrypted the ancient musical scores of King Solomon, the results of which is the album Cantique des Cantiques. Sung by mezzo-sporano and baritone vocalists accompanied by harp and flute, these pieces are indeed religious sounding.

This last album isn't even music, but a classic of Jewish culture nonetheless. Several years ago Rhino released a CD containing the two classic comedic performances You Don't Have to be Jewish and When You're in Love the Whole World is Jewish Presented by the legendary Bob Booker and George Foster on radio, this album provides humorous insights into Jewish culture, from overblown Brooklyn accents to overprotective mothers.

All of these albums are available from:

Hatikvah Music International
436 N. Fairfax Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90036 U.S.A.
Phone: (213) 655-7083
Fax: (213) 938-0577