A freylich fiddler (from North Bergen!) considers klezmer
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A freylich fiddler (from North Bergen!) considers klezmer

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I ran away from corporate America to play klezmer music many years ago. Even though the money’s not as good, the friends are better.

And these albums I’m going to recommend to you are all made by my friends. So how lucky you are then, that instead of hearing from some contumely-crazed critic, you are hearing from a freylich fiddler. All these albums are good, dahlink- stay with me and we will find the particular ones that will make you happy.

Let’s start with Dan Kahn and the Painted Bird. Dan is a gift from a hard heaven – a ridiculously charismatic artist who writes songs of struggle, songs of the worker. (YouTube his “1234 March of the Jobless Corps” and try not to swoon.) His newest CD ,”Bad Old Songs” (Oriente Musik), lights up the part of your brain that is at the intersection of intellect and sex. The dark Yiddish ballads, the Heinrich Heine poetry, the aching accordion, the crazy drinking songs – that ever-so-slightly dirty and knowing voice. Dan is also unusually articulate for a poet, a mechaya really, because you can actually hear the words – and they are brilliant.

I was lucky enough to get a personal preview of “Good Old Bad Old Days,” the high point of the album, a year or so ago in KlezKanada. It’s what they call ostalgie – nostalgia for East Berlin – “we suffered in style and it’s all in the file…I gave you control of my papers and soul… in the good old bad old days.”

Of course it’s better live (isn’t all music?) but hearing it on the CD I recall his flashing eyes, the leaning in, and the heat of intimate music, played simply on a cigar-box uke, written from the inside of an old soul, recalling “how lovely it couldn’t have been.” The thing is, if Dan sings it, it’s true.

Now, if you like your klezmer klarinet hot, moody blue, and otherworldly, you will be swept up in Michael Winograd’s new CD, “Storm Game” (Golden Horn Records).

Winograd (everyone calls him Winograd) is a young – 30 is young! – superstar in the klez world. He is a virtuosic clarinetist, pianist, composer, and arranger, and his newest CD is a soundscape of brilliant and disturbing emotions.

It starts with chazzan in the synagogue – perhaps the safety of the past ?- but by track 2 the mischief begins and the cat is on the prowl. Close your eyes and let the clarinet lead you into dark places, a murderously slow and deliberate dance, a frightening storm. The two songs on the album (with gorgeous lyrics by Josh Waletzky and Sarah Mina Gordon) are anchors as you pass by, borne on by Winograd’s game.

My favorite track is “Fantasy,” with the magnificent Deborah Strauss channeling Bartok’s “Fiddler Cricket on the Roof.” Winograd is a serious scholar of klezmer and a seriously great musician. His live shows are astounding. This album takes you to a newer, darker, and eerier place in our tradition. Go there.

I love story albums- always have, ever since I acted out the entire “Peter and the Wolf” for my entire shocked kindergarten class. “The Witches of Lublin” (SueMedia Productions) is a broad tale – women’s rights meets “Fiddler on the Roof” with a shtickl kabbalah – and beautiful klezmer music. I have to say this: Yale Strom is the busiest and most productive klezmer in the entire world. He is a truly wonderful documentarian, author, and authentic old world fiddler. He is lucky in love too – his wife and musical partner is Elizabeth Schwartz, she of the golden pipes and cheerful can-do disposition.

Together with the estimable Ellen Kushner, they have created a magical tale starring world-famous Tovah Feldshuh as a woman ahead of her time – 1797 Poland. Joanne Borts, Broadway star, plays her talented and high-strung (sorry!) tsimblist daughter, and the women musicians have to (and real women klezmorim of that time really did have to) hide their talent while still making parnose. I must say the ending surprised and delighted me. The album – nicely acted and finely played and sung – will delight you as well.

We have just been graced with the “Chai” album of the 18-years-young partnership of Deborah Strauss and Jeff Warschauer. Another happy klezmer/Love duo, Deb and Jeff perform and teach all over the world, and many of the new and brilliant next generation of musicians got that way because of them. I heard only four tracks of the new CD, “Once I Had a Fiddle” (Klezmerduo.com), but they are all sublime.

Deborah’s quiet voice is so beautiful in the traditional women’s prayer HaMavdil, and (Cantor) Jeff sets liturgy to some of the most gorgeous melodies in the klezmer canon. Then there’s the playing. Glossy and brilliant, dizzyingly, dazzlingly virtuosic, and achingly heartfelt. They breathe together so you can’t tell when the violin stops and the mandolin takes over, when the singing starts and when the fiddle takes off like the wind. This CD is going to stop time for you. You will find yourself listening to it in your dreams.

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