Live At Town Hall
The New York City-based Klezmatics, without doubt one of the most creative and influential of contemporary klezmer bands, celebrate their 25th anniversary this year with the release of a two-CD set recorded at their exciting 20th anniversary concert in 2006. The current line-up of the band was joined by their former clarinetists Margot Leverett and David Kraukauer, and a stellar bunch of 24 other guest singers and musicians, to play some of the best music from their nine previous albums in what really was a once-in-a-lifetime extravaganza.
Live At Town Hall opens with the exuberant, joyfully over-the-top “Man in a Hat,” a Yiddish-English celebration of Manhattan, sailors, world travel and lust. Lead singer Lorin Sklamberg sings the double entendre lyrics with an elastic facility few singers in any genre of music can match. Meanwhile the band – virtuoso players all – wails in triple time.
From there we journey through a marvellous set that includes several extended medleys and suites.
Among the many highlights are four songs featuring special guest singers.
Joanne Borts and Sklamberg sing a duet on “Di Krenitse,” an Itzik Fefer poem set to music by Israeli singer Chava Alberstein. The arrangement draws on both klezmer and cabaret styles.
“Elijah Rock,” an African American spiritual which references biblical prophets Elijah, Moses and Ezekiel, features singer Joshua Nelson and an arrangement that could raise the roof on Preservation Hall in New Orleans.
Adrienne Cooper is featured on a powerful version of “I Ain’t Afraid,” a Holly Near song with added Yiddish lyrics by Cooper and Michael Wex, which the Klezmatics turned into a post-9/11 anthem extolling both defiance to terrorism and reconciliation of peoples.
And Susan McKeown, the superb Irish traditional singer, joins the band on “Gonna Get Through This World,” one of several songs drawn from the Klezmatics’ two albums of the Woody Guthrie Jewish-themed lyrics they set to music.
Other highlights include several other songs from the Guthrie project including “Holy Ground,” sung beautifully by Sklamberg with a choir of other Klezmatics and guests adding gorgeous harmonies, and just in time for right now, the celebratory “Hanuka Gelt.”
Along with Sklamberg, who plays accordion, guitar and piano in addition to his lead vocals, the core Klezmatics include Frank London on trumpet, horns, keyboards and percussion; violinist Lisa Gutkin; Matt Darriau on clarinet alto saxophone and kaval; Paul Morrissett on bass and tsimbl; and drummers David Licht and Richie Barshay. They are not just one of the best bands in klezmer music, they’re one of the best bands in any kind of music.