Classical Music Home

Welcome to Naxos Records

Keyword Search
 Classical Music Home > Naxos Album Reviews

Album Reviews

See latest reviews of other albums...

Stephen Snyder
The World Online: PRI's daily News magazine, January 2001

When Eastern Europe's Jews began flocking to the United States around the turn of the last century, they brought along their music - a hybrid of Romanian, Ukranian, Greek, Turkish, Polish and Gypsy music traditionally played at weddings by wandering Jewish musicians, or Klezmorim.

By World War Two, when the American children of that immigrant generation developed more mainstream musical tastes, Klezmer practically disappeared. That changed in the 1970s, when their children began digging through the old sheet music and 78RPM records. Klezmer revival bands sprang up across the country. Couch.

Now the next generation of Klezmer bands is taking Jewish roots music into uncharted territory. One of them is Klezperanto.

Led by clarinet player Ilene Stahl, Klezperanto is in the vanguard of a movement intent on retooling Klezmer music for the 21st century. While their spiritual great-grandparents would be mystified by their use of the electric guitar, the members of Klezperanto say it's "a natural outgrowth of the klezmer tradition, an ever evolving form of lively, accessible dance music." From Brazilian samba to Louisiana Zydeco the band plants Yiddish and Mediterranean melodies in unlikely New World settings. On the last cut of their new album Klezperanto Re-Grooves Klezmer, instead of Americanizing a traditional Klezmer tune, the band Klezmerizes an American classic - Dizzy Gilespie's "A Night in Tunisia. The members of Klezperanto were all trained by Hankus Netsky of the new England Conservatory of Music. Professor Netsky's own Klezmer Conservatory Band pioneered the Klezmer revival in America. Netsky's enthusiasm - not to mention energy - is evident in the work of his students. Klezperanto leader Ilene Stahl says that in addition to being able to play good danceable wedding music, klezmer musicians in the OLD world "were expected to know all manner of popular music." Klezperanto stays true to its klezmer roots, by taking old world music and giving it a new world edge.

Punco Godyn
VMAG (Northampton, Massachusetts), December 1999

"In September, a close friend of mine somehow convinced me to schlep all the way to Somerville to go to a club and see a band. No mean feat, given my recent track record of avoiding even the Valley's much-lauded-and-beholden-to-a-lone-booking-monopoly night life. So, you think I would caravan all the way out to Somerville? Well, my friend begged me in a most distasteful manner, so schlep I did.

Thankfully, all my bitching about the drive came to naught when I heard Klezperanto, the band in question. Klezperanto appears to be another band riding the current crest of the klezmer revival, but not really. Because they rocked.

Klezmer has always been a tough call for me. While I am fairly open to so-called "world" music, I have a fairly short attention span for much of it. I like reggae and I like polka, two kindred forms you'll find lumped in the same "world" bin in some stores, and both avoided by the teenaged customers, but even with these I won't last a whole concert or CD.

The same goes with klezmer. While I generally will love a klezmer tune, after about three or four songs, I'm kind of yaidle-daidled out. While it helps that the hora is about as jiggy as I get with it on the dance floor, even the user-friendliness of the associated dances wears thin with me. There is a plethora of klezmer bands out there, particularly in our blessed valley, and they are all fighting the good fight of preserving the traditional tunes. Still, I just can't imagine getting down with many of them for an evening on the town.

Enter Klezperanto, which managed to rock at Johnny D's Uptown in Somerville. Perhaps Eclectperanto or Ritalin Shmitalin would have been better names for this band, because they managed to at once excite and soothe my short attention span. The band starts from a base of klezmer, kind of like a pizza starts with tomato sauce: but, oy, the toppings. The disparate elements of klezmer, jazz and rock combine in such a way that I falter at describing their sound. Think of klezmer without the cheese, think of jazz without the blahblahblah esoterica, think of rock without the I'm-too-hip-to-have-fun stance. The unifying theme of this gumbo is the incessant desire to dance that it creates.

At turns loaded with melancholy, moxie, piss and vinegar, the band ran the gamut of styles - rock, gypsy, jazz - enough to keep my ADD-addled pate humming. There's more history here than you standard middle-school-educated rock critic can assimilate. In particular, the combination of surf guitar and a klezmer flourish had me mesmerized, or klezmerized, thanks to the talents of a certain wizard of the strings named Brandon Seabrook. Maybe I've led too sheltered a life, but I've never seen a man play a banjo with a wah-wah pedal before. Cool. Also holding my attention was accordion player Evan Harlan. Admittedly, I'm an easy sell for the accordion (as certain street musicians know), but what he could squeeze out of that baby!

Not being your standard four-guys-and-a-chick hand, they offer nothing in terms of vocals, which aren't missed (though there's a clear desire for some sort of verbal fun in a band which announces songs with titles like "Goodbye to Pork"). The sole chick element in the band is offered by yiddishe jumping bean and clarinet player Ilene Stahl, who apparently was presented with a clarinet in the bassinet, born with it attached, or married to it in some secret occult ritual in the Catskills.

Sadly, the group doesn't have a CD out, so outside of my kvelling you'll just have to wait till the powers that be get a whiff. Or even better, get the band out hear for your wedding or bar mitzvah. Hell, schedule your own briss if you have to, but have a listen."

Sound & Spirit

Veterans of Boston's seminal New Klezmer scene, including Klezmer Conservatory Band alums Ilene Stahl (clarinet) and Grant Smith (drums) plus Evan Harlan (accordion), rock out in tightly-arranged numbers with a sophisticated knowledge of world music, including zydeco, funk, rockabilly and "Romanian Surf Music"! I especially love the classic Yiddish lullabies played as Latino cumbia dances, and the heavy-metal banjo on a tribute to Bo-Diddley.

The Boston Globe

" potent it should carry a warning label."

Ari Davidow
The KlezmerShack

"For those who have missed the ongoing chorus of excited listeners, Klezperanto is a klezmer/world folk fusion band on par with, say, the Brave Combo, but, frankly, better and more danceable. If your music taste ranges from South America to the Balkans, with a healthy dose of klezmer fueling it all, this is the band for you."

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group