Dancing on Water
(Rounder, 2000)

Klezmer music is primarily intended for dancing and celebration, and you don't get much more celebratory than Finjan's Dancing on Water.

Hailing from Winnipeg, Canada, Finjan is Sasha Boychouk on clarinet, soprano and tenor saxophones, sopilka, percussion and whistling; Shayla Fink, accordion and vocal; Daniel Koulack, guitar, banjo and mandolin; Kinzey Posen, acoustic bass, vocal and whistling; Myron Schultz, clarinet, percussion and whistling; and Victor Schultz, violin and mandolin. Guest artists on Dancing on Water include Ben Mink, guitar, violin and programming; Joan Besen, keyboard; Graham Boyle, percussion; David Eaman, banjo; and Mkritch Megel Malkhasian, duduk. The sound is clean, precise and passionate, firmly grounded in traditional klezmer roots but with a distinct character of its own.

The CD kicks off with "Sharon's Dance," and while we don't know who Sharon is, to quote the liner notes "Does it really matter? Shall we dance?" The smooth sound of the clarinet is lively and infectiously joyful, although in comparison to many of the other tracks, the pace is relatively mild. That's a good thing, though, since you'll need your energy for "Bukovinska Polka." Don't let the cantor-like intro fool you; this polka means business. The soprano saxophone lends it a deeper and richer tone and is a good contrast to the clarinet. Overall, the arrangement is tight and well-balanced.

There aren't as many vocal tracks on this CD, but where they appear, they are well chosen. Posen sings "Rumeynisher Kretshmeh," a Yiddish song of joy, with verve and expression. (This is where the whistling comes in.) The song leads into "Hora Staccato," a violin virtuoso piece that allows the rest of the band to run wild, audibly encouraged by Posen. Next up is "Sirba Batuta," an exuberant Roumanian dance with a wild driving rhythm.

Things slow down with "Haneros Haluli," a sweet and melancholy melody featuring Victor Schultz's violin. According to the liner notes, the "piece belongs to a melody-type used in prayer and devotional music" and indeed, there is a soulful and spiritual element to it. It is followed by the title track, "Dancing on Water," a piece very aptly titled. The music is delicate and light, and one can easily imagine dancers high-stepping on the surface of a lake.

"Father's Nigun" is another slower piece with a winding and haunting melody line. "A Heimishcher Sher" picks up the pace, but not too much at first, with a rhythmic melody played first on clarinet, then violin. The music shifts into a new faster melody which "duels" with the earlier melody, played almost with exaggeration, until the whole band takes off.

"A Fish Out of Water (Sardines on Rye)" is an original composition at once contemporary and true to its roots. Starting with driving rhythmic guitar chords rhythm, the piece rocks through a rippling and rolling melody. This one gets a lot of repeat time in my CD player. Another song, "Harbstlid 'Autumn Song'" follows, a song "reflecting on the passage of life" sung by Fink. The first time I heard this, I was not entirely enamored of the guttural quality in Fink's voice, but after repeated listening, not only did it grow on me, but it became one of my favorite tracks as I paid attention to the overall arrangement. Especially lovely is the mandolin in the accompaniment, lending a wistful air.

The band doesn't let you rest for too long, launching into "Azoi Tantzt Men Odessa (This is How We Dance in Odessa)" -- think klezmer "Devil's Dream" with tandem clarinets. They close with "Stories of Times Past," an enchanting melody featuring mandolins and accordion which brings a sense of completion to the CD.

The music is appealing and accessible and an especially good choice for an introduction to klezmer music. Whatever your background, however, you won't misstep Dancing on Water with Finjan.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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