Roger Davidson – On The Road Of Life – Soundbrush Records SR1020, 62:49 [Distr. by Allegro] ****:
(Roger Davidson – piano; Frank London – trumpet; Pablo Aslan – bass; Richie Barshay – drums; Andy Statman – clarinet, mandolin; Joshua Horowitz – cimbalom, accordion)
The Klezmatics – Live At Town Hall – Klezmatics Disc KD 2010, 97:33 ****:
(Frank London – trumpet, horns, keyboards, percussion, vocals; Matt Darriau – clarinets, alto sax, kaval, vocals; Lisa Gutkin – violin, vocals; Paul Morrissett – bass, tsimbi, vocals; Lorin Sklamberg – vocals, accordion, guitar, piano; David Licht – drums, vocals; Richie Barshay – drums, vocals, plus featured guests)
Klezmer musical origins were founded in dance and instrumental songs for weddings and other celebrations. Started in Eastern Europe by Ashkenazic Jews, the music accompanied the early twentieth century migration to America. In addition to the folk roots, the genre was transformed by jazz. Once a specific Yiddish-based form, the structure has evolved to become contemporary and global. Brooklyn has become the center of modern klezmer, producing a plethora of crossover artists.
Two such musicians are Roger Davidson and Frank London. Davidson, an accomplished pianist/composer has explored many musical styles including classical, jazz, tango and Brazilian. His latest release, On The Road Of Life is a compilation of twelve original compositions that merge these styles with klezmer. With arrangements by Frank London (founding member of the Klezmatics), Davidson (who has worked with John Zorn, LL Cool J and They Might Be Giants) has crafted a mosaic of pieces that express the celebratory aura of hybrid klezmer. Backing him are London (trumpet), Andy Statman (clarinet, mandolin), Pablo Aslan (bass) and Richie Barshay (drums).
The project opens with “Freedom Dance” with spirited, dance-tinged mandolin (Statman) and drums (Barshay). The uplifting gypsy/folk/Yiddish concoction is varied and always interesting. Whether executing a brooding piano line (“From The Desert To The Sea”), subtle Russian-like waltz time (“The Lonely Dancers”) or traditional hora (“On The Road Of Life”), the musicians embrace the melodies with jazzy inflections. “Hungarian Waltz” morphs into a Dixieland trumpet (London) romp as Davidson also joins in on ragtime piano. Pablo Aslam’s bass is forceful and the numerous solos are electric. Statman’s contributions, especially on mandolin are illuminating. Accents that invoke the Eastern European vibe are plentiful. Of particular note is the use of Hungarian cimbalom (a hammered dulcimer instrument) by Joshua Horowitz on “Equal In The Eyes Of God”. There exists deep spirituality and cultural pride within the tracks that mesh with London’s structures.
Speaking of London, his seminal group, The Klezmatics are celebrating their 25th anniversary with a world tour and the release of The Klezmatics Live At Town Hall. This 2-CD, 19-track effort captures the impact of a live performance. With backgrounds in world music, traditional jazz, classical and avant-garde music, this aggregation of musicians seek to reinvent centuries-old Jewish musical formats. Ten albums (one titled Wonder Wheel received a Grammy) established the group as cultural icons. Inventive, jazz arrangements are complemented by fervent vocals. This dual-pronged aesthetic is crystallized by “Brother Moses Suite”. The first part, “Eliyohu hanovi” is atmospheric and features a clear vibrato-less solo on trumpet from London. The second piece, “Elijah Rock,” is full of passion and gospel-like singing (Joshua Nelson). The humorous “Rhythm +Jews With Horns Medley” demonstrates the improvisational prowess of the ensemble. Clarinets and violins provide a unison counterpoint for the raucous jam.
On a different note, “Dybbuk Suite” is earnest and spiritual with country flair, classical interludes and melodious horn play. The unlikely folk muse of Woody Guthrie inhabits the “klezmerized” rendition of his “Lolly Lo”. Banjo riffs mix with the more traditional instrumentation. Another reworked Guthrie opus, “Holy Ground” sounds like an authentic folk hymnal with exultant, harmonic vocals. The essence of this album is joyous and heartfelt.
Both On The Road Of Life and The Klezmatics/Live At Town Hall represent great music. A documentary DVD, The Klezmatics/ On Holy Ground has also been released.
TrackList (On The Road Of Life):
Freedom Dance; On The Road Of Life; Dance Of Hope; Equal In The Eyes Of God; Sunflowers At Dawn; The Lonely Dancers; Harvest Dance; Night Journey; Hungarian Waltz; From The Desert To The Sea; Water Dance; Moscow Dream
TrackList (The Klezmatics/Live At Town Hall):
Disc One: Man In A Hat; Bobe Tanz; Dzhankoye; Rhythm+ Jews With Horns Medley; Dybbuk Suite; Di krenitse; St. John’s Nign; Brother Moses Suite (Eyliyohu hanovi/Elijah Rock)
Disc Two: Davenen; I Ain’t Afraid; Gonna Get Through This World; Holy Ground; Moroccan Game; Hanukah Gelt; Medley (Lolly Lo/NY Psycho Freylekhs); Encore: Shnirele perele; Ale brider; Tepel
The counterculture movie from the 60x