This is the most pleasant musical surprise of the season. I received a promising CD (beautiful, interesting cover) from Israel (bad news if klezmer but not Moshe Berlin). I'm not sure what this is, but it isn't klezmer. It is the most delightful soup of avant garde jazz I've heard since, oh, the last time I saw Dutch percussionist Han Bennink.
Like Bennink's Trio Clusone, this is a trio, and the music is experimental, exciting, interesting, incredibly well-played and diverse. Unlike Bennink's band, there are occasional passages derived from klezmer. The band's publicist describes the mix as "combining styles as different as klezmer, Rock-In-Opposition, Downtown Music, Jewish Alternative Movement, garage rock, etc." This is far more cheerful music than one expects from the Tel Aviv alternative scene. Given that the band is only about a year old, formed by Russian emigrants to Israel, and still hasn't performed live a lot, I am even more pleasantly surprised.
The band is very tight, from the incredibly near-perfect rhythm section, to even the tight comic klezmer-inspired (but not remotely klezmer in effect) vocal harmonies on "Dancing." The album opens with a short, plaintive train whistle. It is the last moment of familiar sounds until the deceptively simple bass line that opens the aptly named "Danglers Song," a lovely piece quickly interrupted by a scramble of choking voice and other instruments. All the while, the drums and bass keep an interesting beat while the clarinet plays tunefully, gracefully. Except when it bends, or the voices return. The rhythm section is perfect. This is music that articulates the "oy" of Jewish music with humor. It fits in not only with the work of Tzadik's Anthony Coleman, but with the experimental early work of Israel's Shlomo Gronich (the black album, or the trio, "No Names"). Then it stops and the music moves on, into a "Semitic Tango" which is no more (and no less) tango than the klezmer pieces are klezmer. You can hear the tango rhythm, but that isn't the tune in the foreground.
Differently, "Dancing" contains klezmer riffs, but is not klezmer. Well, at times it could be a sort of punk klezmer, but the drumming is too tight, the bass too tight, the clarinet to lyrical. As might be expected, the "March" isn't a march - but sometimes it is something very close. And the voices, the voices on "March" comprise some of the best, passionate gibberish, recorded in a long time. On "Sippurim," we return to the voices, but now hear both davenning as well as klezmer, and then the album ends in triumphant, joyous, pounding chaos.
This is simply a delightful experimental jazz album. It is the sort of album one would expect to hear on Tzadik, but, like the work of, say, Klezmer en Buenos Aires, one doesn't. It is fresh, innovative, interesting music. This is music that makes you smile when you aren't awestruck at how good the band is. It is, in short, my kind of music, and no more easy to pigeonhole or to describe than that. Hell, even the cover and inside notes are impossible to pigeonhole, but splendidly excellent. If your ears hunger for something new, something new that is worth hearing; something new that will change the way you hear a bit, then this is the album for you, too.
Reviewed by Ari Davidow 10/18/03