Gary Bohan / Jim Grey / Glenn Dickson / Michael McLaughlin / Eric Rosenthal / Andrew Stern

September 11, 2016


Naftule’s Dream Recordings 103


The Struggle Can Be Enobling

Disk Respect 01

Just as Latin music, so-called World music Blues and even Jazz itself has changed as the years pass so has the instrumental offshoot called Klezmer. Similar in a way to the evolving practices of the Jews, who were its original adherents, and who accommodated changing circumstances and times during their many thousands of years of history, in 2016 some Klezmer interpolates values and sounds that couldn’t have been imagined by its Eastern European progenitors. Some klezmorim, like their Latino and Blues counterparts are orthodox traditionalists who play songs unaltered. But in an equivalent fashion to certain urbanized immigrants, who decide that different modes of dress and deportment can be meritorious, some adopt novel sounds to the Klezmer base.

Boston’s six-piece Naftule’s Dream and Amsterdam Klez-Edge quartet are two of the bands which are part of what might be call the reform movement of Klezmer. Both have been around for more than two decades and neither is afraid of change. Collectively the band members also work in notated, improvised, rock, soundtrack and other musics. However the main distinction is that the players on Naftule’s Dream are in the main klezmorim that also play other music, while most of Klez-Edge is made up of Jazzers who in this case play Klezmer. Initially conceived of as a new music project for members of the traditional Shirim Klezmer Orchestra, Naftule’s Dream has become an entity into itself. Consisting of cornetist Gary Bohan, clarinetist Glenn Dickson, accordionist Michael McLaughlin, guitarist Andrew Stern, tubaist Jim Grey and drummer Eric Rosenthal, the sextet now plays all original material, with the nine tunes on Blood composed by McLaughlin or Dickson plus one by Bohan.

The Struggle Can Be Enobling is different. Pianist Burton Greene for instance was one of the founders of so-called Free Jazz in the early 1960s; fellow Americans are saxophonist and flutist Alex Coke, who was a member of the Willem Breuker Kollektief; and tubaist, Larry Fishkind who played in the ICP Orchestra and the European Tuba Quartet. Libyan-born, Amsterdam-based drummer Roberto Haliffi moves between Jazz and ethic music. The CD is packed with 14 tracks most arranged or re-orchestrated by Greene. The material ranges from traditional freylatch and Chassidic airs to originals and versions of pieces by Jerry Herman, Harold Arlen and Wayne Shorter.

Like early trading companies in the Americas which specialized on exploiting the newfound riches they found in the area, many of Naftule’s Dream tracks are concerned with the interface between rock beats – expressed convincingly by guitar, drums and tuba – and expected brass and reed tones. Instances of this are the title track and especially “Aby Kirly the War Hero”. On the latter the rhythm section expresses the groove in dark tones, while the cornetist and clarinetist decorate the proceedings with fluttering grace notes that could come from the horns of born-again Ziggy Ellman and Naftule Brandwein respectively.

Although accordion chords can be sympathetic and tuba gusts meditative to demonstrate freshness, most tunes confirm that taking someone out of (Klezmer) country is nearly impossible without having its conventions stick to the person. For example “Chasing Ivo Livi” may have Stern’s guitar playing as raunchy as Link Wray’s, but the overall joyous theme overcomes any tendency towards unbridled violence. Additionally “Klez Spiritual” and “Turkisher” may be mooted as gospel or Baltic-influenced respectively. But except for a Blues tinge [!] in the former, both appear to take place very much at the same simcha as the other tunes. A further key to the sextet’s identity occurs on McLaughlin’s “Boss Shabbos”. With Grey blasting away up-front, there’s no doubt about its links to Klezmer’s Romanian heritage. Trembling accordion chords also make it smoother and more traditional sounding.

The Klez-Edge foursome also makes reference to Klezmer’s Russian and Romanian heritage. But with the CD at 75 minutes with enough space – some may say too much space – to explore other themes, it skirts Broadway, nightclubs, after-hours honky tonks and musicians lofts on the way past the shul and out of the shtetel. Like a Hollywood actor who gets movie parts because he’s related to a major star, “A Sleepin’ Bee” is one tune whose inclusion is that composer Arlen was Jewish. It does demonstrate that the quartet can swing with the best as Greene’s sophisticated comping gives a proper background to Fishkind’s twinkle-toed narrative. On the other hand the CD benefits when Coke injects some goyishe naches into the CD attaining the role of Texas tenor on tunes such as “Bay a Glezele Mashke”, “Jews & Gypsies Suite II” and especially “Araber Tants” – imagine Booker Ervin showing up for shabbos dinner – he could supply his own chrein. The first tune balances between blunt slurs from the saxophonist and Greene’s boogie-like keyboard slapping. The second, tied in to the kinship of Roma and Jews, is buoyed by a circular theme played by the tubaist, and eventually suggests unbridled happiness with the dance getting faster and more bouncy via Coke’s individual reed bites. The longest and most complex track, “Araber Tants” opens up into the saxophonist’s most unrestrained performance, with Coke unleashing a tremolo take on post-Coltrane licks, ending with altissimo cries. Maintaining the party mood however – and freylatch links – is a repeated vamp from Greene that also sets up Haliffi’s only drum solo.

With Coke able to also bring his flute and soprano saxophone into the mix, the four skit more musical colors than Joseph had in his multi-hued coat, with the Blues, shoved against a red-hot marching beat, a pastel byzantine-like harpsichord tone Greene exhibits on “Indian Judaic Song” and some black-hated Chassidic airs. While there are some lapses into white-bread sentimentality, Klez-Edge pulls off the almost impossible feat of being both sentimental and swinging in the Greene-penned title tune. Ending with the tuba player puffing away with Falstaffian airs and set up by Coke in a mellow mood balancing formalism and exploration, “The Struggle Can Be Enobling” is also a piano showcase which outlines the original ideas the band promotes.

Neither your father’s nor your zaidy’s Klezmer, each disc offers many musical delights – not all of them strictly kosher.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Blood: 1. Sitting In Some Train Watching The Tuscan Landscape Go Speeding Backward 2. Blood 3. Aby Kirly the War Hero 4. Calabria 5. Boss Shabbos 6. Klez Spiritual 7. Chasing Ivo Livi 8. Turkisher 9. In Search Of Her Lullaby

Personnel: Blood: Gary Bohan (cornet); Jim Grey (tuba); Glenn Dickson (clarinet); Michael McLaughlin (accordion); Andrew Stern (guitar) and Eric Rosenthal (drums)

Track Listing: Struggle: 1. Yiddish Blues 2. Bay a Glezele Mashke 3. Sabbath Prayer 4. Ketsad M’rakdin 5. Jews & Gypsies Suite II 6. Sewing Machine 7. Indian Judaic Song 8. Russian Roots 9. A Sleepin’ Bee 10. Araber Tants 11. Theme from Schindler’s List 12. Spring Freylekhs 13. Nigun: Zhuritze Chlopotzi 14. The Struggle Can Be Enobling

Personnel: Struggle: Alex Coke (alto and tenor saxophones and flute); Larry Fishkind (tuba); Burton Greene (piano) and Roberto Haliffi (drums and percussion)