THE OTHER EUROPEANS
(This review is from the April 23, 2012 issue of the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin.)
The Other Europeans are 14 musicians from eight different countries in Europe and North America – eight of whom form a klezmer ensemble and six of whom comprise a lautar ensemble. Lautar is the music of Eastern European Roma (Gypsies). Some of the selections on Splendor, a splendid two-CD set recorded live at the Yiddish Summer Weimar in Germany in 2009, feature one or the other of the two ensembles, or parts thereof, while much of the album has all 14 of the musicians playing together.
The Other Europeans project has been spearheaded by pianist and accordionist Alan Bern, perhaps best known for his work as a member of Brave Old World, a band at the forefront of the creation of new Jewish music over the past couple of decades. Other members of the Klezmer Ensemble include clarinet and saxophone player Christian Dawid; Matt Darriau of the Klezmatics on kaval, piccolo, clarinet and saxophone; and Mark Rubin, who started his career as a member of the alt-country duo Bad Livers, on tuba and bass.
Among the members of the Lautar Ensemble are cimbalom player Kalman Balogh; accordionist Petar Ralchev; and trumpeter Adam Stinga.
Historically, as Walter Zev Feldman, mentions in his liner notes, Jewish and Roma musicians had little, if any, interaction in most areas of Eastern Europe except in Greater Hungary, primarily in the 18th century, and in Moldova, particularly in the province of Bessarabia, from the 18th century until the Holocaust. The music also crossed over to North America with Jewish immigrants in the late-19th and early-20th centuries but declined in both America and Moldova by the 1950s – in America due to assimilationist tendencies, and in Moldova due to the Soviet policy of creating a Moldovan ethnic music that was, as Feldman notes, “free from Jewish influence.”
The repertoire which the Other Europeans explore on Splendor – and which they perform brilliantly – is the klezmer and lautar music played in Bessarabia before the Second World War. Whether in the smaller klezmer and lautar groupings, or in the combined forces of the full ensemble, the music is compelling, exciting and beautiful.
Among my favourite selections from the klezmer repertoire are “Khaiterma,” a delightful classic which features Darriau on clarinet bouncing his notes off Rubin’s slap-bass playing; and the two-part “Klezmer Suite #1,” particularly the wild second part.
My favourite lautar selection is the two-part “Lautar Clarinet Suite #1,” which begins with a in a slow, contemplative mode before picking up steam. The piece almost seems classical.
And, of course, the tracks featuring all of the Other Europeans are a constant delight. Among the most beautiful and exciting pieces is the album-ending concert encore of “Sârba de la nord.”
The similarities and contrasts of the Jewish and Roma influences in this music are fascinating. Alan Bern has done a sensational job of tying it all together in the Other Europeans.