|© J. Adrian Wylie|
by Sandor Slomovits
It's avant-jazz night at the Firefly, so what is the klezmer band Into the Freylakh doing on stage? Isn't klezmer, with its roots in medieval Eastern Europe, the music my great-grandparents probably danced to at their wedding in the old country? Doesn't the intricately ornamented melody spinning out of bandleader Bryan Pardo's clarinet echo the vocal improvisations cantors have chanted for ages in synagogues from Budapest to Brooklyn? Isn't "Rebbe Elimelech," the Yiddish equivalent of "Old King Cole," which Jennifer Goltz is gleefully belting out in her sparkling soprano, so old that only musicologists can trace its origins? This is cutting-edge music?
But listen some more. Even on the most familiar songs there are surprises composed interludes when Into the Freylakh is no longer following the standard form of improvising over repeating choruses. And check out the complex jazz/classical influences in the long, look-Ma-only-two-hands! piano intro that Isaac Schankler fashions for the simple Israeli folk song "Ma Navu." Or listen to Pardo introduce one of his original tunes, titled after his favorite Star Wars character, by suggesting we repeat the phrase "Chewbacca wookie, Chewbacca wookie, wookie," over and over to stay in rhythm with the music. Then there is another Pardo original, "Spanakopita," also in an unusual meter. Klezmer in seven? Try dancing the kazatski to that!
But lest you think that this is academic, brain music, just tune into Gabe Bolkosky's deeply expressive solo on "Ma Navu." You find yourself leaning forward, almost expecting to understand the notes, as though the violin were calling to you in your mother tongue. And later you find yourself singing along with him on the "Der Audience Participation" song, finding that yes, you can scat sing in Yiddish! Then there are the dazzling exchanges between Pardo's clarinet and Bolkosky's violin, bringing to mind an imaginary 1930s jam session with Benny Goodman and Stephane Grappelli. If the Firefly had a dance floor, we'd all be on our feet, stomping
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