The Flying Bulgar Klezmer Band,
(Traditional Crossroads, 1999)

The Flying Bulgar Klezmer Band's Tsirkus combines the best of both worlds, blending exuberant traditional klezmer music with cool contemporary jazz to create a sophisticated sound that remains true to its roots.

Klezmer music is a branch of traditional Jewish music and is characterized by lively dance tunes intended to celebrate special occasions, such as weddings. The melodies are rooted in the prayer modes of the music used in the synagogue, maintaining an important connection between secular and sacred. (Follow this link for a brief history of klezmer music.) For those of you whose only exposure to klezmer music has been a pseudo-klezmer rendition of "Hava Nagila" played in between the "Alley Cat" and the "Chicken Dance" at a wedding reception, hang on to your hats. You're in for a treat.

The Flying Bulgar Klezmer Band is Daniel Barnes, drums and percussion, David Buchbinder, trumpet and fluegelhorn, Andrew Downing, double bass and electric guitar, Lori Feedman on clarinet and bass clarinet, Marilyn Lerner, piano and Hammond B3, and Dave Wall, vocals and alto saxophone. There is no one "star" whose performance stands out; rather, the musicians work together in a tightly cohesive unit.

The album is a mixture of traditional tunes and original compositions, with musical liberties taken on many of the traditional tracks. The first track, "Tsirkus," starts out with a sultry swinging beat and eerie-innocent circus music by Buchbinder before Wall launches into the lyrics, a Yiddish poem by Celia Dropkin. The song is sung in Yiddish, but the dark and erotic tone comes through clearly in Wall's voice and in the barely contained nervous energy of the music.

Two more tracks carry out the circus theme: "Highwire," composed by Lerner, clearly and effectively balances the traditional and the modern, walking the fine line between the two, while Buchbinder's "Sideshow" combines a soaring carefree tone with a darker undercurrent.

Another original tune, "If Truth Be Told...," is described as a Hasidic melody and is both majestic and melancholy, while "Infidel Tants" gets your blood going and your feet moving. Buchbinder composed both. Wall composed the music for "Greengrass," a poem by Zishe Landau, and both his music and vocals capture the spirit of the lyrics, at once bucolic and urbane.

Wall's cantor-like voice rings out solemnly and proudly on "Lomire Zikh Iberbetn (Let Us Make Friends Again)" then takes on a manic gleeful edge in "Oy Vey Mamashe (Oy, Vey, Little Mama....)," described in the liner notes as a "song of chaos and dysfunction with a smile ... a sweet, energetic song about the underside of life."

There is remarkable richness on this album from first note to last. The Flying Bulgar Klezmer Band play their music with passion, energy, and precision, and the combination is unbeatable.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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