Klezwoods – Oy Yeah! – Accurate Records 5060, 31:51 [Distr. by Allegro] ****:
(Sam Dechenne – trumpet; Jim Gray – tuba; Jeremy Gustin – drums; Joe Kessler – violin; Greg Loughman – bass; Michael McLaughlin – accordion; Brian O’Neill – percussion; Alec Spiegelman – clarinet, saxophone; Tev Stevig – electric guitar)
The unlikely emergence of Klezwoods in the world music culture can be found in the formation of the group. A local tavern asked violinist Joe Kessler to form a band for a Klezmer-Christmas event. With that spirit of adventure, Kessler (who was part of the Jimmy Page/Robert Plant No Quarter Tour), put together a top notch ensemble that would reinvigorate the genre. The joyous nature of Klezmer is updated with jazz, groove hooks, fusion and Latin nuance.
Oy Yeah!, a ten-song feisty romp, presents a musical portrait of the “Ottoman Empire”. At a brisk thirty-two minutes, the crisply arranged numbers reveal a dynamic ensemble with considerable talent. The opening song, “Ki Eshmera” is cultivated from Yemenite Jewish culture. Starting with a rhythmic bass line, the song develops a lyrical, mystical theme. Solos by clarinet (Alec Spiegelman) and violin (Kessler) provide a warm, elegant resonance. Understated trumpet blends perfectly in this organic alchemy. Tempo percolates in “Gankino Oro” (Bulgarian), as Spiegelman beaks out the saxophone for an edgy solo. Tev Stevig punctuates the track with a jazzy electric guitar. All of the musicians contribute to the coloration and deft execution of this cultural expedition.
There are numerous surprises as well. “Giant Jew”, homage to Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” is impressive in its interpretation and group dynamic. Kessler seems capable of synthesizing the mechanics of the band in any context. Greg Loughman’s bass solo is melodic, and delves into an introspective, delicate flow. A certain highlight is the Macedonian tune, “Cuperlika”. With a haunting melody expertly played by the ensemble, the moving trumpet of Sam Dechenne, and complicated violin runs of Kessler sparkle. Rhythm shifts and breaks are managed with assurance and continuity. Modern influence pervades the Turkish folk number, “Bahar Dansi” with the addition of a ska beat. It all seems to integrate with the crescendo-laden jam format.
Fans of traditional Klezmer should not be too concerned. Tracks like “Chassidic Medley No. 1” and “Mache Teynista (Mother In Law Dance)” will easily get them onto the dance floor.
TrackList: Ki Eshmera; Gankino Oro; Bahar Dansi; Mache Teynista (Mother In Law Dance); Cuperlika; Hey Lady; Nassam Aleyna; Syrtos; Giant Jew; Chassidic Medey No. 1
— Robbie Gerson