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Kleztory’s Freylekh [2:07]
Im Eshkachech Yerushalayim (If I forget You, Jerusalem) [3:46]
Liteul Biteul [5:26]
Moldavian Hora [5:02]
Oy Tate s’iz Gut (Oh Father, it’s good) [7:35]
Ajde Jano (C’mon Jana) [2:33]
Andy’s Ride [2:33]
Soulmate [4:37]
Violin Doïna in C [8:14]
Die Goldene Chasene (The Golden Wedding) [2.41]
rec. June 2020 Planet Studios, Montreal, Canada
CHANDOS CHAN20187 [46:07]

Kleztory is a band which comprises a rich mix of cultures and musical training – academic and self-taught – with eclectic musical tastes from classical, contemporary, jazz, blues, country, to folk. As such, this veritable amalgam makes Kleztory – founded in 2000 in Canada’s highly-individual, French-speaking province of Quebec – the ideal ensemble to perform klezmer – the traditional music of the Jewish people of Eastern Europe. Kleztory recorded its first CD, Kleztory – Musique Klezmer – in 2001 on Chandos Records, and has successfully released further discs, as well as given many prestigious live performances in Canada and further afield.

Momentum is the name which the group has chosen for the present CD, to mark their twentieth anniversary. They’ve included some of their fans’ firm favourites, some pieces by group members, and some good-old traditional standards. They’ve also added some new material, as well as numbers which they’ve been associated with, ever since their formation.

Returning to klezmer, instrumental music had been banned by the rabbis, although it continued to flourish as a common bond where Yiddish culture was concerned. It originated in the villages and ghettos of Eastern Europe, where nomadic Jewish musicians, or ‘klezmorim’, performed at weddings and other celebrations, basically until the time of the Nazi persecution. After WWII, interest in klezmer continued to decline, as people tried to distance themselves from any reminders of its wartime connotation, its musical part in Jewish culture now largely being taken over by popular Israeli, and American repertoire. Former clarinettist of the Israel Philharmonic, Argentine-born Giora Feldman, who, along with other musical compatriots, first started to bring about the gradual revival of klezmer, with ‘Brave Old World’, a klezmer band formed in 1989, after which the music’s popularity once more increased over time, and is now a vibrant and highly-varied contributor to the field of ethnomusicology, as well providing entertainment to audiences of all creeds and nations. In fact, when Kleztory released their second CD in conjunction with I Musici de Montréal, cellist and leader Yuli Turovsky was quoted as saying that the CD should be sold in all pharmacies as a pill for happiness.

The CD opens with a Freylekh, a Yiddish word implying a ‘happy tune, and one of the best-known standard song-types in the klezmer idiom. It’s a very upbeat, traditional number, which, as the comprehensive sleeve notes explain, Kleztory would have been playing for years, at weddings, and Bar-Mitzvahs. We hear the count-in, and a few extraneous shouts along the way, all, no doubt intended to create the ‘live’ recording ambiance. What a pity, though, that while the sleeve note ended with a Mazel Tov! (Congratulations!), this didn’t happen in the performance itself, which might just have rounded off the typically-abrupt ending with a shade more pizzazz.

The mood changes considerably for Im Eshkachech Yerushalayim, a much-slower, melancholy number, still often used at weddings and other celebration, and intended to contrast all the happiness of the moment with the ups-and-downs of life afterwards. Here there is some very emotive violin playing à la ‘Schindler’s-List’.

Liteul Biteul opens with a syncopated chordal ostinato in the bass, over which wind instruments momentarily interweave their melodic lines, before another brisk two-in-a-bar section takes over, where leader Airat Ichmouratov, on clarinet and duclar really gets into the swing of things in a virtuoso and exciting fashion. I was a little surprised that the sleeve had no description of what a ‘duclar’ is. It is generally defined as ‘…an ethnic clarinet-like instrument, which combines the expression and body type of a duduk with the mouthpiece of a classical clarinet’, the latter being an ancient double-reed woodwind instrument, indigenous to Armenia. The syncopated opening of the start makes a brief return, but then the piano enters the scene, and before we know it, we’ve been whisked from a 0Canadian klezmer venue, to a sophisticated Montreal night club, for some piano jazz, which also features a solo from the accordionist. But before long, the music of the opening returns, and the number moves swiftly to the close – back where we started, in klezmer country.

The next track is a traditional Moldavian Hora, a Romanian, or Israeli D0ance in which the performers form a ring. A plaintive solo-accordion melody is heard at the start over a sparse accompaniment which begins to grow as the piece progresses – again with some lovely idiomatic contributions from the violin. It’s neither fast and furious, nor slow and mournful, but has just the right amount of ‘momentum’ to portray the dancers gently moving past you in their undulating circles.

After a brief tremolando call-to-attention, Oy Tate s’iz Gut sets off at a rate of knots, giving the players a further chance to let their hair down – which, at last, I really feel they do. The result is truly electrifying, enhanced by the syncopated bass-line later on, which tantalizingly avoids relying on the basic tonic-dominant pattern as much as it can. However the highlight is probably the last 30 seconds or so, firstly when the drummer gets a chance for a quick drum break, still within the confines of the fast-flowing music, and finally where virtually all the instruments round the piece off in a rapid, yet perfectly-timed unison passage.

Ajde Jano is a traditional Serbian song, where the original words told of a desire to be released from life’s daily burdens. After the initial darkly-moody melody has initially run its course, various other instruments take their turn at improvising over a static chord base. Initially the piano just interposes odd chords here and there, before being given free rein to join in the improvised section, where the player briefly indulges himself once more in a contemporary-jazz idiom. The opening returns briefly, before simply fading away, leaving just the solo drum playing for a second or two more.

Andy’s Ride picks up the tempo once more, and provides more than ample opportunity for both clarinet and violin to have a real ball, with a few encouraging shouts from the rest of the players. By complete comparison, Soulmate – composed and arranged by the leader – opens with a soulful improvisation on the duclar over a drone bass which stays solidly in place before shifting notes after about a minute and a half. It conjures up a particularly evocative picture especially when, at the first harmony-change, the voice of an unidentified soprano is heard, adding an almost Indian raga-like spice to the mix, enhanced further by a tabla-type rhythm on the hand-drum. This then gives a further nod in the direction of the pianist, to offer another short, jazz-like contribution, before the calm, haunting atmosphere of the opening returns. The sleeve note refers to the piece as a doïna – a musical lament found in the folk music of Romania and the surrounding regions. Ostensibly it is a type of improvisation originally played by Romanian shepherds on the pipe or flute, and subsequently adopted by klezmer musicians.

Soulmate is actually followed on the CD by a traditional Doïna in C, which opens with a pizzicato string accompaniment, before the distinct sound of the bass clarinet makes its presence felt. This leads seamlessly into a really moving section where the rich tone from violinist Elvira Misbakhova is just what the doctor ordered for this gipsy-violin cameo, straight from a Hungarian restaurant in Budapest, with all the embellishments, and glissandi that characterize this particular style of playing – on this occasion, the piano is used to emulate the sound of an accompanying cimbalom. But, before we know it, there’s a shout, and off we go again, with the rapid tempo once more giving the strings a further chance for some real bravura effects, especially as the tempo is increasing along the way. It all ends happily, with a surprise ending, which I won’t divulge at this remove.

The CD concludes with another traditional number, Die Goldene Chasene¸ which marks a return to the rapid two-in-a-bar style we probably associate most strongly with klezmer music. Soloists pop in and out of the ensemble, adding their brief contribution as they pass by, and if the woodwind instruments aren’t physically able to verbalize as such, the players come extremely close to making their instruments come close to ‘speaking’. True to form, there is a slight tempo increase once the end is in sight, where a good old ‘perfect cadence’ is relied upon, to end the CD on a really high note.

I enjoyed Momentum very much, particularly the slower and more varied numbers, where music from other styles and genres were integrated, only to emphasize how klezmer has changed not only over decades, but even during the twenty years which Kleztory were commemorating with the issue of their latest CD. The technical prowess of each player, whether a soloist, or part of the backing, is absolutely second-to-none, and it is very impressive how they can switch so seamlessly from individual improvisation within the part, to playing with such great discipline in unison passages, or in harmony.

This new CD could be a perfect gift for those of us who might find ourselves partying on our own this year because of the ongoing pandemic. It’s certainly got some great foot-tapping music on it, but equally has its calmer moments, better suited to quiet repose and reflection.

As for Momentum’s ability to double up as a musical ‘happy pill’, I don’t think drug companies need worry too much about any potential drop in sales of anti-depressants. But Kleztory still deserve an ultimate vociferous exultation for this overall high-spirited, thoroughly entertaining, and well-recorded new disc – Mazel Tov!

Philip R Buttall

* Kleztory
Airat Ichmouratov (leader; clarinet; bass clarinet; duclar)
Elvira Misbakhova (violin; viola)
Dany Nicolas (guitar)
Melanie Bergeron (accordion)
Mark Peetsma (contrebasse)

Guest Musicians
Veronika Cherniak (violin)
Anastasia Virlan (violin)
Cynthia Blanchon (viola)
Jean-Christophe Lizotte (cello)
Bertil Schulrabe (percussion)
David Ryshpan (piano)

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