Broadly put, Klezmer, short for “kley-zemer” (musical instruments), refers to the conglomeration of German, Greek and Eastern European music traditionally played at Jewish celebrations. Klezmer is also a fusion music. As the Jewish Diaspora has spread, the unique flavor of traditional Jewish music has blended with local musical forms from the United States, Turkey, North Africa, the Balkans and Yemen. The result is a broad and diverse range of styles and sounds that might be grouped under the heading “Jewish Music” or “Klezmer.”
Over the last decade, there has been a resurgent interest in this traditional Jewish music among musicians and audiences. New York City’s Knitting Factory has long been at the forefront of this trend through its steadfast commitment to live Klezmer as well as its annual week-long celebration of this rich tradition. Klezmer Festival 1998: Live at the Knitting Factory brings together a wide-variety of the most inventive and talented Klezmer groups from that year’s gathering in a stunningly successful compilation.
The record provides an excellent introduction to the more avant-garde end of the contemporary Klezmer spectrum. The Diasporic element of the music can be heard in Klezmokum’s arrangement and performance of the traditional Greek tune, “El Encalador,” in the Paradox Trio’s version of the Yemeni piece, “Ozi Vezimrat Ya,” and in the avant-Dixieland sound of Naftuli’s Dream. Several of the pieces, particularly Hasidic New Wave’s “Transcendence,” are downright trippy and evoke visions of Mile Davis and company on a Klezmer binge during their brooding “In A Silent Way” sessions.
Overall, there is a smoky quality in much of this collection that effectively conveys the weight of history, struggle and celebration that the music bears. What ties the project together, though, are the expert recording and production values that render the live performances crisp and balanced, sonically, while still capturing the energy and excitement of the event. Klezmer Festival 1998 is highly recommended and would be a nice addition to both the Klezmer novice and the Klezmer veteran’s collection.