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Shabbos Frivolity: Klezmatics Live!

I came to klezmer music through Itzhak Perlman, specifically through the Great Performances episode called In the Fiddler’s House.

This may not be true. I can’t swear to it.

I also was given a copy of the Klezmatics’ Jews with Horns at some point. Before? After? I think after, but I don’t know.

At any rate, I am certain that I was at least 25 when I started listening to klezmer. Nearer 30, probably. It wasn’t the music of my youth, nor yet of my father’s youth. It may have been the music of my grandfather’s youth in the Old Country, but he put that country stuff aside when he ran away to play refined music in the spas of Austria. Nor was it the music of my mother’s youth, nor of her parent’s youths. None of that. The sound was recognizable from all the things that were the sounds of my youth that were informed and influenced by klezmer. The liturgy, of course, and the Hebrew (never Yiddish) songs of my synagogue and summer camp. And American theater music and jazz; if you listen to enough Cab Calloway, no nigun will be utterly foreign to you. But the actual klezmer, no, not so much.

Well. That was my introduction to Klezmer: In the Fiddler’s House and Jews with Horns. I have gathered a fair amount since then, of various kinds from various sources, but those two albums have remained my favorites. Well, and I actually like the live In the Fiddler’s House disc more than the studio one. Klezmer, being at least somewhat improvisational, can be tremendous live with an audience. Of course, almost anything can—if it weren’t for technical restrictions, I suspect that the best orchestral music recordings would also be done with audiences.

I have seen the Klezmatics live a few times. Let me see— four times, I think. And I have wanted a live Klezmatics album since the first time. And now there is one! Or nearly, anyway. They recorded their big twentieth anniversary show five years ago, and are now self-publishing a double-CD of it. And they’re beginning with a kickstarter page to raise money for publicity. You can buy the album, you can buy the poster, you can buy autographs, you can buy backstage passes, you can buy pastries, you can buy home-cooked food, and you can get a Klezmatics house concert. It’s a fund-raiser!

It’s my sense, not really based on anything much, that the band has been going through a bit of a wilderness time these last few years. They put out a fantastic album (and won a Grammy for it) that was completely unrepeatable, not least because it was in collaboration with a lyricist who had been dead for forty years. They did that big anniversary show with guests and whatnot. And then, nothing. Well, not nothing, because they have been touring a lot, but the only albums have been re-releases and compilations. I don’t know if they have been writing and recording—recording is still expensive—but there’s no obvious sign of it on the website. Now, for all YHB knows, they may have been a musically rich five years, and the next studio album, whenever it arrives, may be better than any of the others. But I have to say, I’m glad of a live album now.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,