Gregori Schechter &
the Wandering Few,
(ARC, 2003)

Klezmer, the jazz-like folk music of the 19th-century Eastern European Jewish communities, is enjoying a major renaissance because of its toe-tapping rhythms, its use of improvisation and its mix of melancholy and optimism.

Its popularity may be new, but its origins are more than a century old in a land often called "the pale" stretching between Lithuania and Poland on the Baltic, through Belarus, to the Ukraine and Moldova. For some time, Jews were not allowed to live in Russia proper, but could live in these westerly parts of the Russian Empire that formerly belonged to the more tolerant kingdom of Poland-Lithuania. Later political and economic events forced many of these Jews to migrate: first either east into the Soviet Union, or west into Germany; finally to North America or Israel.

Although klezmer bands virtually disappeared for a century or so, the 1980s and '90s brought the music back into popularity. Listening to this CD by Gregori Schechter and his band is akin to taking a musical tour around the various 19th-century Jewish communities. Although klezmer has distinct rythms and scales, there are many varieties as evidenced by this CD. Even places such as Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia and Armenia, which share similar musics, are included.

A key element of klezmer is the clarinet, here played expressively by Schechter, who also plays sax. According to the CD liner notes, Schechter was born in Alma Ata, Russia (probably meaning Almaty, Kazakhstan) but some websites have him native to Vladivostok, Siberia. Regardless, he's a fabulous musician. He's been a pioneer in the klezmer renaissance, moving from Russia to Israel and on to the UK.

The other capable musicians on this CD are Ronnie Goldberg (guitars), Paul Moylan (double bass) and Alan Dunn (accordion, keyboards).

This CD is beautifully produced, authentic and professionally played. Unfortunately, (as admitted in the album's notes) studio performances do not do justice to klezmer. The music really requires the energy of a live performance and an audience. As a result this CD seems a bit too polished. Although it may not have turned me into a "klezmaniac" it is however a worthwhile addition to any folk or world music collection.

- Rambles
written by David Cox
published 26 June 2004