Review: Klezmerpalooza 2006 rocks the shtetl

Bands with clever names like New Kids on the Shtetl, WildKatz and Brown’s own Yarmulkazi came from all over New England and from as far away as Chicago for Saturday’s Klezmerpalooza 2006, the first of what may become an annual festival. The event, which was held at Alumnae Hall and took nearly a year to organize, showcased traditional and not-so-traditional selections of Jewish klezmer music.

New Kids on the Shtetl started the afternoon off with a talented clarinetist playing a complicated, high-pitched melody over a simple bass line, sedated drums and a keyboard. The musicians, who hail from the Eastman School of Music, presided over smooth changes in dynamics and tempo and took the audience through songs that were markedly different from the normal klezmer sound.

In “Zorn Diona,” a muted, stilted trumpet called out over a sinister bass line and the occasional cymbal roll. The drums gradually picked up tempo as the trumpet struggled to emerge, and the fragmented sounds of all the instruments swirled together into a surprising melody, building up to a crescendo that immediately began to fade into the end of the song. They finished their set with “A Hot New One.” Filled with trumpet, clarinet and drum solos, the song followed a quick tempo all the way to the end, finishing on a high note – literally.

The Jewish Music Trio from the New England Conservatory took the stage next.

Though the program stated the group was composed of two trombones and an accordion, the actual combo was one trombone and one accordion. Many of the songs were meant to sound mournful, and the feeling was palpale. Like two old friends, the instruments complemented each other well. The accordion played slow, penetrating, emotional sounds, wallowing in unforgettable sadness, while the trombone acted as the hopeful will to carry on – bringing up the tempo, breaking off on tangents and trying to make the accordion forget its sadness for a while.

WildKatz, a klezmer band from Northwestern University, boasted the only bassoon and the first vocalist of the day. The group played what it called “old-school klezmer,” which was very lively. Vocalist Raysh Weiss was not the central element of the songs in which she performed; rather, she was another instrument in the WildKatz ensemble. The audience clapped along to several of the group’s songs.

During the WildKatz set, some of the young children in the audience formed a sort of hora-style line and danced up and down the aisles, couples waltzed in the back of the room and a barefoot guy danced by himself in a very animated fashion.

Finally, Yarmulkazi took the stage. The group performed songs in mixed time signatures, one in 1/7 and another, called “Say You Are a Woodcutter” by Alan Gordon ’06, in 1/13, a fast time signature. In one song, “Bessarabian Honga,” the group substituted the drum set for a conga. The flowing melody was punctuated by short, staccato notes on the violin, trills on the flute and an engaging electric bass line. “Der Alter Tsigayer” was folksy with fun vocals sung by Anna Schnur-Fishman ’09. Yarmulkazi finished up its performance with “The Epsteins,” a song that sounded pleasantly like the entire band was tumbling down a mountain.

At the end of the performance, which also signaled the end of Klezmerpalooza 2006, all of the bands took the stage together to play “We Are All Brothers.” And what’s louder than one person playing klezmer music? Seventeen people playing klezmer music. Luckily, other musicians successfully managed to stay out of the way of the four trombonists, and the song was an energetic end to a fun concert.

The event was supported by Brown Hillel, the Creative Arts Council and the Department of Music.