PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Frank London's Klezmer Brass Allstars: Carnival Conspiracy

Deanne Sole

Frank London and his Klezmer Brass Allstars marry klezmer music with carnival exuberance, farting, fruity tubas, Rabelais, and shouts of ah-ha!"

Frank London's Klezmer Brass Allstars

Carnival Conspiracy

Label: Piranha
US Release Date: 2006-01-10
UK Release Date: 2005-10-31
Amazon affiliate

For knowledge of Frank London's genealogy and of the antiquity of his descent, I refer you to the great Franklondoerline Website, from which you will learn at greater length how klezmer giants were born into this world and how he came to be one of them, being of the tribe of The Klezmatics and of the tribe of Hasidic New Wave for which uncomely bands he has: "hooted the trumpet, parpled the cornet, rawked horns, struck pianos, bumped percussion, and sung jumbunctiously through the bazaars and temples of his native land."

He also likes Rabelais. As witness the name of the eighth tune, "Pantagruel, Shiker Hindert Prozent". As witness the liner notes which make extravagant claims, repeat themselves, and shout, "flatulance" and "bumgut". As witness four men playing instruments through their arses in the illustrations by Richard Kenigsman. As witness the drunken heaves of brass. As witness a farting, fruity tuba. As witness the Carnival in the title. As witness Frank London writing in the liner notes, "For this concerns Carnival", meaning a fierce explosion of urban energy that inverts hierarchies and makes physicality into a virtue.

Item, a carnival is reckless. Item, it is cathartic. Listener, is Carnival Conspiracy a Carnival? It slides, rolls, bleats, shakes, whees, and parps as if the walls of music are being knocked down but these walls are like the walls of an inflatable castle and they stand upright no matter how much they are battered and made to flex. The musicians are seasoned old wheezers and they know their klezmer too well to shatter it. That sharp Eastern European gypsy touch is there. The clarinet spins itself into sweet dizziness.

Manjara Sandowska grrrrrowls "ah-ha!" throughout "In Your Garden Twenty Fecund Fruit Trees", which is the kolomeyka that sets the album off. She huffs and blows like a merry rambumpus while her friends, the brass, rush behind to pick her up and bear her away with her skirts flapping. Then they put out their hands to pull you up by the roots too, my merry bystander, onlooker, and toper of drowsy ales, because no one should be allowed to stand still during these Ukrainian dances. Those horns would toss you about, if only you weren't so large and so removed from them, you sitting there in your room with the volume control in your hand. Ah, if only they were here in the flesh! Then they'd sweep you up. But alas 9564738 times for them, they're trapped inside a CD.

What's more, they have the tuba pacing at their heels to keep the beat with his regular pa-pa-pa. Who can be an uncontained verb with that taskmaster up their arses? But that's always the way with a carnival. Society stands in the background. Without society and trained musicians and tubas to keep time there'd be nothing but chaos and how would we have our catharsis then, when the whole world is fun and nothing is fun? There's no frisson when you burst in a void.

So Lorin Sklamberg will use his trained voice to show us what a man drunk on his own melancholy would sound like with the right enunciation. So the influences of different nationalities on "Midnight Banda Judía" meet together neatly though they pretend to be jerking the song apart. So "Who Knows One" approaches harshness but knows to avoid it. So there is sometimes a certain edge to the sound that suggests Mexican music as well as Jewish; and the two are well-married. So "A Time of Desire - Curha Mix" with its electronic swooshing fits into an album that is mainly acoustic. So all of it fits.

Marvellous, my hearties, the way a unifying vision brings the disparate parts together! It's supposed to be a carnival after all, not a revolt. And this is the niggling problem that lies at the back of Carnival Conspiracy. The music is so focused, and so faithful to the wild mood that Frank London has planned for it, that there's no surprise and hence no catharsis. Listening to Carnival Conspiracy is like watching Meryl Steep act. The action on the surface is perfect, but at the back of your mind you're aware that you're watching an intelligent person practice their craft, not a real woman falling in love or weeping.

This doesn't mean that their enthusiasm rings false, but it does mean that you're not going to get the same kind of pleasure out of Frank London's Klezmer Brass Allstars that you might from a more innocent band. What you will get is the pleasure of listening to music that marries cleverness with exuberance. It's not simple, being a smart naïf, but this one is worth listening to.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.


Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.


Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".


John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.


The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.


Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.


In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.


Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.


The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.


'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.


1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.


'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.


The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.