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Du Shtetl à New York
Bessarabye (Traditional Yiddish)
Bei Mir Bist Du Scheyn (Sholom Secunda)
Ukrainian Memory (Traditional Yiddish)
My Funny Valentine (Richard Rodgers)
Medley Harold Arlen / George Gershwin - Stormy Weather / The Man I Love
Amol iz geveyn a mayse (Traditional Yiddish)
Tanz (Traditional hassidique)
Sunrise Sunset (Jerry Bock)
Alexander Ragtime band (Irving Berlin)
Over The Rainbow (Harold Arlen)
Broyges et Shulem tants (Traditional Yiddish)
Fiddle (Traditional Yiddish)
Rhapsody In Blue (George Gershwin)
I Got Rhythm (George Gershwin)
A yiddishe mame (Lew Pollack)
Rozhinkes mit Mandlen (Abrahm Goldfaden)
Isabelle Georges (vocals)
Sibra Octet
rec. Studio Suquenza, Montreuil, May 2008 
AMBROISIE AM173 [64:49]
Experience Classicsonline

I wasn’t sure when I began this whether I’d take to it. I had visions of Euro-American Klezmer, the one cancelling out the other. I also feared over fussy arrangements, fractured and accented ‘American’ vocals and a dilution, via discreet instrumentation, of all that is vital in the music of the ‘shtetl’. I also thought the ‘glued to the score’ studio photograph of the band was not a good augury – too many notes, not enough soul. Damn wrong, on all counts. I’m a convert.
 
The album’s hook is to trace Hassidic music from its small village origins to the Broadway stage of musical comedy – to the great purveyors of popular song, Irving Berlin, Gershwin, Harold Arlen (born Hyman Arluck), Richard Rogers (or Rogazinsky) et al. Traditional Yiddish music sits side by side with stage and popular songs in this hour long recital.
 
The octet consists of two violins, a viola, two cellos, double bass, clarinet, piano and cimbalon. Isabelle Georges is the eloquent and expressive singer. That said these are not to be compared necessarily with earthier klezmer bands, such as Brave Old World, Kapelye, The Klezmatics, The Klezmer Conservatory Band or The Andy Statman Klezmer Orchestra. Though Philippe Berrod is a fine player he’s not the kind of strutting, personality-filled genius that Statman is. If you expect a different kind of take on the music, however, you will not be disappointed.
 
Berrod’s arabesques over the piano vamp of Bessarabye get things off to a good start. Isabelle Georges sings the full verse of Bei Mir Bist Du Scheyn in Yiddish – not just the chorus – then turns it into a tango; a slap bass then launches the English language version, alongside some audible ‘hoofing’ before a Hassidic style takes over. It’s a rather winning example of the nature of transmogrification and mutation that the disc seeks to evoke.
 
Georges sings in time honoured Gallic fashion in a Gitanes-inflected accent. On My Funny Valentine she does so, over just a bass underpinning; very much New York not Klezmer; more Edward Hopper’s ‘Nighthawks’ than Marc Chagall’s ‘I and the Village’. 
 
The Arlen medley segues adeptly and is followed by a succession of dance numbers, one instantly recognisable from Fiddler on the Roof (Sunrise, Sunset). Melodic duties are shared between fiddle, clarinet and vocals. Broyges et Shulem tants sports a piano solo that ranges widely and fuses jazz with popular elements, moves to Broadway and sanctions thereby a few naughty quotations from the clarinet and piano - including Swanee River.
 
The foregoing should give some idea of the stylistic areas covered by the disc and by this enterprising, closely-knit band. You can, if you like, also catch some indigenous Georges Brassens-sounding French in Fiddle or the compressed rhythm and blues treatment meted out to the introduction to Rhapsody in Blue (it works).
 
I can imagine some people finding this just too busy, too knowing, maybe too over arranged. Pas moi, as they say.
 
Jonathan Woolf 
 


 


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