Klezmatics at the Jewish Community Center

By Paul Moffett

Klezmer is not exactly your household music, unless your household recently celebrated Rosh Hashanah, and even then, it might not be all that well known. The Klezmatics are not exactly a household name either, but they're well enough known to draw a sold-out crowd to the Jewish Community Center's Linker Auditorium over the Labor Day Weekend. In a nutshell, Klezmer music is Central European Yiddish music that came to the U. S. during the great immigrations of the late 19th century. Afterwards, it stopped evolving as it became the nostalgic music of the "old country" for millions of Yiddish immigrants. Of late, the style has undergone a resurgence, and the Klezmatics are one of the hottest acts on the klezmer circuit. The new groups have added modern instruments to the old ones and, perhaps, nudged the tempos up just a tad. At any rate, the music was hot enough to generate a snaky line dance through the aisles of the auditorium. Formed in 1986 on the Lower East Side of New York City, the Klezmatics are a very diversified group. The rhythm section consists of drummer David Licht, who has played with Bongwater and Shockabilly, and bassist Paul Morrissett, who looked for all the world like a bass player for a traditional bluegrass band. Frank London covered the trumpet and occasional keyboard duties, as well as being the arranger for the group. He has played with David Byrne and LL Cool J. Clarinetist David Krakauer is a member of the N.Y. Philomusica and the ensemble Continuum. Vocalist Lorin Sklamberg squeezed the accordion and danced throughout the show. Violinist Alicia Svigals is a specialist in traditional Yiddish and Greek fiddle styles. The combo ripped through a string of tunes from their two albums, especially their second, Rhythm + Jews, described as klezmer with an attitude. Most of the tunes were very uptempo. In fact, they were well nigh bouncy. The three front instruments traded off solos, though Krakauer's rapid, delicate and intricate clarinet solos were the most remarked upon by audience members. The Klezmatics allowed that much of the material came out of the "good old Socialist worker tradition," although they did play one erotic Biblical tune, credited to King Solomon, "our lyricist." They also borrowed the chord changes from a Miles Davis tune for "Shnirele Perele," a song about messianic yearning. Lacking expertise in Yiddish was no drawback to enjoying the music, though it was a bit difficult to write down the correct names for the tunes. Not that it really mattered, of course. The music was what counted and that worked fabulously well.