The Klezmatics – On Holy Ground (2010-11)
Documentary on the leading klezmer band
Director: Erik Greenberg Anjou
Studio: Gajah/Seventh Art Releasing
Video: 16:9 color
Audio: English & Yiddish DD 5.1, 2.0
Extras: Four complete concert performances
Length: 106 minutes
The Klezmatics are the only klezmer band to ever win a Grammy (in the Best World Music category) and have been together for over 25 dysfunctional (as the members identify themselves) years now. They’ve performed with Itzhak Perlman, Tony Kushner, Garrison Keillor and others and the documentary includes some performances with black Jewish singer Joshua Nelson, who combines his influences in a kosher-gospel style of freedom songs. They’ve recorded multiple albums, starting way back in LP days, and their 2006 release Wonder Wheel, which featured original music to newly-discovered lyrics by Woody Guthrie.
Anjou and his crew followed the Klezmatics around on and off for over three years, as they traveled from various U.S. dates to Poland and Hungary, plus onstage at places such as Carnegie Hall and in the recording studio. In Poland they discovered a strong Jewish crowd who welcome this input into their tradition and culture, since the country is regarded as the birthplace of klezmer music. It was interesting that at least one of the members wasn’t even Jewish, having had a Unitarian mother and Catholic father. Among the talking heads who comment on the band and their music are Theodore Bikel, Israeli singer Chava Alberstein, and Woody Guthrie’s daughter. The struggle of the group to make their art in the face of a fluctuating music industry is clearly presented. At one point they finance a recording session out of their own pockets, struggle to find a record company, find one in LA they think is a good bet, but six months later it is out of business. The occasional conflicts among the members, such as on the tours in their van, are touched on. One comes up when a founder—trumpeter/composer Frank London—takes a teaching position with a college and doesn’t check it out with the other band members first. Most of the members reveal that even with their Grammy and frequent performances, they cannot make a living totally with the Klezmatics—a sad comment on the music world.
If any recording is essential to the genre, this is it.