Wednesday, November 16th, 2016...2:23 pm

Heretics and marching bands

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New klezmer CDs from the Klezmatics and Nu Haven Kapelye


The cover of the new Klezmatics album, Apikorsim, shows the six members of the band posed carefully in a stately, formal, almost old-world photograph, most dressed in dark suits and dressy hats. Open the CD cover, however, and you find the band in a riot of ethnic fabrics, rearing back precipitously to play their instruments.

The paired images make for a good representation of the album, with a title that translates as “heretics,” and includes a Helen Keller quote, “The heresy of one age becomes the orthodoxy of the next.” The album’s collection of songs seems inspired by Keller’s quote, and from the two photographs.

Apikorsim by The Klezmatics

Apikorsim by The Klezmatics

It is, as always, steeped in tradition – the Klezmatics were among the first to revive the Jewish social music we now call klezmer, and approach it with the fascination of a historian. At the same time, the Klezmatics have avant garde sensibilities appropriate to their origins in New York’s East Village, and their music has always had a restless, progressive sensibility.

They’ve never been afraid to incorporate any musical influence that seems to partner well with klezmer, borrowing from world music and delighting in contemporary arrangements.

This album, the first to focus on the core Klezmatics group without their typical long list of collaborators, finely distills this sensibility. They follow a funereal, mournful, minimal dirge (“Di Nakht,” telling a metaphoric tale of a blind man unmoored in the world) with their title song, “Apikorsim (Heretics),” a rollicking number featuring laughing horns and military drums, in which the singer begs to hear wild stories of lands in which heretics dance and sing.

It’s a delightfully sacrilegious song, incorporating one of my favorite Yiddish idioms, that if you are going to eat pork, you might as well let it flow down your beard. And so the album goes, song after song, from stately tradition to freewheeling anarchy, from heresy to orthodoxy, from old-world fiddle solos to angular contemporary arrangement, as though one necessarily follows the other, as though music can prove Helen Keller was on to something.

They make a pretty good case.

The Nu Haven Kapelye call themselves a “very, very big Klezmer group,” and indeed they are – at performances, they can number as many as 30 musicians, which makes them almost a proper orchestra.

So they have a big sound, on full display on their album “What’s Nu?” You don’t hear this sort of sound all that often, as klezmer bands are typically relatively small combos, but you used to hear something like it. Yiddish stage star Molly Picon’s recordings often featured full orchestras behind her, making her songs sound less like typical Yiddish recordings and more like film soundtracks, which they sometimes were.

Nu Haven Kapelye favors soaring brass and drum line beats, so their recordings often sound like they are parading through the streets of Connecticut municipalities, trying to drum up interest in, I don’t know, a  match of Odessa wrestlers or a football team made up entirely of graduates of Yeshiva University.

Their songs frequently feature vocalists Jackie Sidle and Hedda Rubenstein. The singers do a competent impression of the Barry Sisters by way of the Del Rubio Triplets, and delightfully call themselves the Seltzer Sisters. This is also the name of a California home seltzer delivery services, and that seems somehow appropriate

I can’t help imagining sitting outside a deli, snacking on a knish, and looking up to see the Nu Haven Kapelye march by, Sidle and Rubenstein belting their way through “Ale Brider,” and suddenly clowns rush out and spray each other with seltzer bottles.

The band’s music would be perfect at that moment.

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