REGISTER NOW AND GET
• 5 FREE tracks! • 101 tracks for $9.99
ClassicsOnline Home » USA Klezperanto: Klezperanto
By Ari Davidow
By Punco Godyn
V-Mag (Northampton, Mass.)
"In September, a close friend of mine somehow convinced me to schlep all the way to Somerville to go to a club and see a band. No mean feat, given my recent track record of avoiding even the Valley's much-lauded-and-beholden-to-a-lone-booking-monopoly night life. So, you think I would caravan all the way out to Somerville? Well, my friend begged me in a most distasteful manner, so schlep I did.
Thankfully, all my bitching about the drive came to naught when I heard Klezperanto, the band in question. Klezperanto appears to be another band riding the current crest of the klezmer revival, but not really. Because they rocked.
Klezmer has always been a tough call for me. While I am fairly open to so-called "world" music, I have a fairly short attention span for much of it. I like reggae and I like polka, two kindred forms you'll find lumped in the same "world" bin in some stores, and both avoided by the teenaged customers, but even with these I won't last a whole concert or CD.
The same goes with klezmer. While I generally will love a klezmer tune, after about three or four songs, I'm kind of yaidle-daidled out. While it helps that the hora is about as jiggy as I get with it on the dance floor, even the user-friendliness of the associated dances wears thin with me. There is a plethora of klezmer bands out there, particularly in our blessed valley, and they are all fighting the good fight of preserving the traditional tunes. Still, I just can't imagine getting down with many of them for an evening on the town.
Enter Klezperanto, which managed to rock at Johnny D's Uptown in Somerville. Perhaps Eclectperanto or Ritalin Shmitalin would have been better names for this band, because they managed to at once excite and soothe my short attention span. The band starts from a base of klezmer, kind of like a pizza starts with tomato sauce: but, oy, the toppings. The disparate elements of klezmer, jazz and rock combine in such a way that I falter at describing their sound. Think of klezmer without the cheese, think of jazz without the blahblahblah esoterica, think of rock without the I'm-too-hip-to-have-fun stance. The unifying theme of this gumbo is the incessant desire to dance that it creates.At turns loaded with melancholy, moxie, piss and vinegar, the band ran the gamut of styles - rock, gypsy, jazz - enough to keep my ADD-addled pate humming. There's more history here than you standard middle-school-educated rock critic can assimilate. In particular, the combination of surf guitar and a klezmer flourish had me mesmerized, or klezmerized, thanks to the talents of a certain wizard of the strings named Brandon Seabrook. Maybe I've led too sheltered a life, but I've never seen a man play a banjo with a wah-wah pedal before. Cool. Also holding my attention was accordion player Evan Harlan. Admittedly, I'm an easy sell for the accordion (as certain street musicians know), but what he could squeeze out of that baby!Not being your standard four-guys-and-a-chick hand, they offer nothing in terms of vocals, which aremore....
Klezperanto will perform as the finale of this year's international Ashkenaz Festival in Toronto, Ontario on Labor Day (or as they say in Canada, Labour Day),
Monday Sept. 2 at 7:30 p.m. The concert takes place in the beautiful Harbourfront Center. For details on this and other Ashkenaz Festival events, go to: www.ashkenazfestival.com .
For local Boston-area performances in September, please visit our website:
www.klezperanto.com and click on "schedule".
Klezmer is, at its root, dance music from the Eastern European Jewish wedding tradition. But klezmer musicians were expected to know all manner of popular music and the tradition took shape at cultural crossroads where it was influenced by Gypsy and Greek music, as well as other European styles. These styles were blended with cantorial music from the synagogue to create a decidedly secular and distinctively Jewish music.
Klezperanto now updates that traditional sound by tossing into its melting pot a lively mixed-bag of dance music from around the world. The Boston-based group has set its Yiddish and Mediterranean melodies in original arrangements that dip into zydeco, rockabilly, funk, New Orleans jazz, cumbia and Balkan brass surf music. The result is an irresistible set of grooves all graced by a uniquely Klezperanto touch.
As with anything involving Jewish tradition, there are many opinions about what is and is not klezmer. They run the gamut from a strict preservation perspective through the most avant-garde contemporary music. In this context, it is understandable that Klezperanto resists being defined simply as a klezmer band. Its music is a natural outgrowth of the klezmer tradition, an ever-evolving form of lively accessible dance music.
The members of Klezperanto all come from a tradiitonal klezmer background. Klezperanto leader Ilene Stahl (clarinet), Evan Harlan (accordion, piano, musical director), Mark Hamilton
(trombone), and Grant Smith (drums) all play in one of the
most prominent klezmer revival reperatory ensembles, the
Klezmer Conservatory Band, led by preeminent music scholar
Hankus Netsky. Mike Bullock (bass) and Brandon Seabrook
(banjo, guitar, mandolin) are also two of the exceptionally
talented members to emerge from Netsky’s Jewish Music
Ensemble at the New England Conservatory of Music.
their Naxos World debut, the six-member Klezperanto
demonstrates that this is also fun music. With solid klezmer
roots, spectacular technical vituosity, and a wry sense of
humor, they remind us all that this exuberant music is for
dancing and celebration. Included is a wild new version of
Dizzy Gillespie’s jazz classic, A Night in Tunisia.
As leader Stahl explains of her clarinetist life before klezmer,
“I knew there had to be more to life than orchestral
obscurity or trying to be Benny Goodman. Then I heard klezmer
and my dreams went from black and white to Technicolor. With
the first swooping gliss, krekhts and pyrotechnic trill, I
realized what a clarinet was made for! But that wasn't even
the whole story. It wasn't until my first klezmer gig that
people got up and danced to the music I was playing. This had
never happened in any chamber music recital I had seen. It
into the urge to move and dance that is so primal, with solid
musicianship and an innate sense of cultural and musical
history, Klezperanto speaks in a language that is undeniably
same goes for Klezperanto’s name. Yiddish, with its elements
of Hebrew, Slavic, and German, was a lingua franca for
Jews in the Diaspora. Dr. Ludwig Zamenhoff, a Yiddish-speaking
Jew from Bialystok, expanded this idea with the invention of
Esperanto, a pan-European language which he hoped would bring
understanding between people spanning national boundaries and
cultural distinctions. Klezperanto is a new universal
language. The one you speak with your feet.
Ilene Stahl (leader, clarinetist)
wanted to play in a rock and roll band but “says she didn't
know" she picked the wrong instrument. Nevertheless,
she's been called the "Jimi Hendrix of klezmer
clarinet" for her pyrotechnic performance style and
soulful interpretations of traditional Yiddish music. She
founded Klezperanto in 1998 - along with music director and
accordionist Evan Harlan ?to create a new kind of dance
music that would combine the irresistible rhythms of zydeco,
cumbia, funk, second-line, and Romanian brass band surf music
Ilene has also been the clarinetist with The Klezmer
Conservatory Band since 1987. She came to Boston immediately
after graduating from Hampshire College where she did her
Division III thesis, "Special Oy-fects: The Art of
Klezmer Clarinet." With the KCB, Ilene has performed
extensively throughout the United States and on all
international tours. She has been featured on numerous
recordings and on radio and TV broadcasts, including the Great
Performances program "In The
Fiddler's House" with Itzhak Perlman as well as
both recordings based on that collaboration. Her musical
theater experience includes the world premiere of The American
Reperatory Theater production of "Shlemiel The
First", and "Borschtcapades" with Joel Grey.
Ilene also teaches clarinet. Many of her students from Boston,
Klezkamp, and KlezCanada have gone on to form Klezmer bands of
their own. Sometimes they call her when they need to sub out a
Evan Harlan (accordion, piano, music director)
has recorded and performed internationally with several jazz
and world music ensembles including the Klezmer Conservatory
Band and the Claudio Ragazzi Quintet. His own ensemble,
Excelsior, plays “declassified?arrangements of 20th
century composers?works. In addition to performances
throughout New England, Excelsior has been featured on WGBH
radio’s internationally distributed Art Of The States, WGBH/BBC’s
The World, WBUR’s The Connection and Here & Now. Evan
has composed numerous scores for film, dance and theater, and
has played on the soundtracks of Sidney Lumet’s A Stranger
Among Us, John Sayles?Lone Star, and Sayles?Men
With Guns. In musical theater, he has conducted
“Shlemeil The First?at The American Repertory Theater,
“Fiorello?at Brandeis University, and “Happy End?at
Mark Hamilton (trombone)
has been playing the trombone ever since the fourth grade, the
same year he won a dixie cup for performing I Love You
Truly the best in his class. Since those early beginnings,
Mark has performed all over the world and recorded nine CDs as
a member of the Klezmer Conservatory Band. He is a busy
freelancer and has performed with Joe Williams, Itzhak Perlman,
Victor Borge, Robin Williams, and Joel Grey, among others. A
talented educator, Mark is on the jazz faculty at Blue Lake
Fine Arts Camp in Michigan and is the former Instrumental
Music Director at a fancy Independent School in central
Massachusetts where his bands consistently won top honors at
the International Association of Jazz Educator’s festivals.
Both an arranger and composer, he specializes in klezmer and
jazz music for concert bands and other ensembles. Mark created
a publishing company to make this music available for such
groups (hamiltunes.com). As if this is not enough, Mark is
also a proud graduate of the New England Conservatory and the
University of Delaware. He is a founding member of Klezperanto.
Brandon Seabrook (banjo, mandolin, guitar)
After years of
worship at the altar of Led Zeppelin, Brandon Seabrook
discovered the visceral power of klezmer banjo while studying
at Boston's New England Conservatory. He brings a sense of
sonic exploration and reckless abandon to everything he plays,
from chugging banjo rhythms to screaming guitar leads. He has
collaborated and performed with many of the key figures on
Boston's klezmer, jam band and jazz scenes.
Likes: anything on Thrill Jockey, 80's metal, and TLC.
Dislikes: neo-traditionalist be-boppers, weak coffee
and Derek Jeter.
Mike Bullock (bass)
Bullock has played and studied with a wide range of musicians,
from Hankus Netsky and Theodore Bikel to new music pioneers
like Peter Kowald, Joe Maneri, and Ran Blake. He is one of the
busiest members of Boston's surging avant-garde scene. Dena
Ressler of Jewish music source, A Bisl Yiddishkayt, describes
Mike's playing as "essential, sweet, and virtuosic."
His debut as a leader is "There the Eye Goes Not" on
Tautology Records, released in 1999.
Grant Smith (drums, percussion)
studied drumset with Alan Dawson, Arabic drums with Jamie
Haddad, tabla with Shashi Nayak, and Afro-Cuban percussion
with Enrique Pla. The Boston Globe calls him a
"brilliant improviser." The Boston Phoenix
has noted his topflight "cross-genre " abilities.
Ilene notes his sunny disposition. Grant has toured
extensively, including Thailand, Australia, and both Europes.
A member of the Klezmer Conservatory Band, he is also a part
of many world music, jazz, classical, orthodox, deconstructed,
and both free projects. Theatre and dance credits include the
American Repertory Theater's production of "The King
Stag," featuring a solo multi-percussion score (with
staging and costumes by Julie Taymore) and movement works with
Shakti Smith, Jane Wang, and Anika Tromboldt Kristensen as
well as his own choreography known as hogginsho.
high profile gigs as tympani with Itzhak Perlman, borscht
drums with Joel Grey, and tabla with the Violent Femmes, Grant
still insists that his biggest gig was the Macy's Thanksgiving
Day Parade with Kermit the Frog and Big Bird. Fave color:
green. Fave food: Jane's cookies.
Last Albums Viewed
USA Klezperanto: Klezperanto