Metropolitan Klezmer,
with the Isle of Klezbos,
Mosaic Persuasion
(Rhythm Media, 2001)

Access to klezmer should be unlimited. It ought to be a guaranteed right, like freedom of the press and turning on red. But if I were forced to pick just one klezmer album to tide me through, I'd give serious consideration to Metropolitan Klezmer's collaboration with the Isle of Klezbos, Mosaic Persuasion.

The album has a little of everything. There are mad, whirling dance pieces like the perking "Samovar Freylekhs" and slapstick "Humphrey Bulgar," languorous Eastern sounds like "Uskudar Taxim/Turk in America" and blues/jazz-flavored American poetry like the industrial poet's "Mayn Rue Plats (My Resting Place)." This varied collection of tunes is given context in the brief but excellent liner notes. Metropolitan Klezmer creates a historical tour of mosaic history in its selections. There are radio show themes, movie soundtrack samples, musical poetry from sweatshop workers and always, in great variety and with high panache, traditional songs from the Middle East to Middle Asia. Each is discussed in brief notes that don't assume pre-existing scholarship on the reader's behalf, and add vitality to the stories told in often understated lyrics.

The Metropolitan Klezmer and the Isle of Klezbos put their distinctive claims on each of these songs. Mosaic Persuasion has a strong dependence on drums and woodwinds that gives the album a distinctly old-fashioned air. The ultimate pairing of the two is in the final "Araber Tants," as Ney flutes and hand drums carry the album to the days of handmade instruments and nomadic traveling tunes. The drums and flutes are usually joined by the familiar accordion and violin, and these standard instruments often unite to create a unique approach to the tunes.

"Northern Doyna/An Alter Nigun/Abi Gezunt" has a swing era jazz sax; Eve Sicular's wonderful drums create a tango beat alongside a very klezmer accordion in "Muzikalisher Tango." And there are some unexpected contributors on the album, as Dave Hofstra lends comic relief with his tuba in "In-Law's Taxim/Mekhutonim Tants (In-laws' Dance)," and the clarinet classes up "Brandwein in the Lotus Groove."

Vocalists Debra Karpel and Rachelle Garniez could add their talents to the range of instruments. Karpel has an unusually rich voice, low and with an earnestness rarely heard in modern music. With small twists in range and inflection she can add coy humor to the entendre-laden "Lomir Zikh Iberbetn(Let's Make Up)" or lend crushing solidity to the pain in "Unter di Khurves fun Polyn (Under the Ruins of Poland)." Garniez takes the place of a chorus, supporting and sharpening the edges of Karpel's fine voice.

It may be unlikely that some cruel superhuman force will ever limit your musical choices, and there are plenty of fine klezmer albums to tempt your ears. But if you're trying to find a keystone for your collection, looking to have your knowledge of the art expanded or planning to introduce a novice to what the genre's about, it would be hard to find a better album than Mosaic Persuasion.

- Rambles
written by Sarah Meador
published 6 March 2004

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