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Extending Tradition: The Klezmatics Present at the Highline Ballroom

Had you popped your head into the Highline Ballroom in New York City at various points throughout the evening on January 9th, and not read the fine print, you’d probably have assumed you’d stumbled into three different shows. However, the music was, in fact, all part of one program: The Klezmatics Present. The featured acts—Les Chauds Lapins, Lúnasa and the Klezmatics—were as musically different from each other as foie grois, fadge and gribenes.

Opening was the Brooklyn group with a French name, Les Chauds Lapins, literally, “the hot rabbits.” The frontman, Kurt Hoffman, explained the name something like this: imagine Dominique Strauss-Kahn at a high school prom, and that’s what a hot rabbit connotes in France. But the rabbits can also play, it turns out, with Hoffman on ukulele, partner Meg Reichardt on guitar, and vocals shared between them. Their entire repertoire (at least what they played of it on Monday evening) consists of French swing from the prewar era. With their stated goal, “to reclaim the songs from Paris which were so influenced by Tin Pan Alley,” pieces by Django Reinhardt and Jean Trenchant, among others, were reworked into spare café swing…

…Next was Lúnasa [an interview with band member Kevin Crawford follows this review]. This five-member group has garnered more awards in their 15-year existence than you can count on three hands, the most recent of which is “Performers of the Decade” by liveireland.com. Their sound is a tidal wave of traditional Irish tinted with bluegrass and jazz, and they created an energy that easily overtook the room…

…With the appearance of the Klezmatics, the evening entered its final act. The group, which formed in the East Village in 1986 and 20 years later won a Grammy for an album of songs composed around Woody Guthrie lyrics, combines horns, strings, percussions and the accordion for an Eastern European sound that is miles away from traditional shut-up-and-eat-your-borscht klezmer; yet, it is still, without a doubt, in the genre. Their trombonist, Frank London, also on keyboard, is wicked; Matt Darriau just might be the most innovative alto sax you’ll ever hear in your life. Paul Morrissett on bass, Lorin Sklamberg on vocals and accordion, Richie Barshay on percussion, and Lisa Gutkin, who fiddles and sings, are all masters in their own right…

…The Klezmatics’ playing was seamlessly executed, and so unpretentiously natural, that it took some discipline to distance oneself and put a finger on what makes their sound work: while reviving “traditional” Eastern European melodies, the Klezmatics infuse them with New Orleans jazz, Celtic fiddle, and other various influences, to make one genre-busting symphony.

[Source: GALO Global Art Laid Out]

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