Tomasz Kukurba was born in Cracow, Poland in 1969. He started playing the violin in elementary school. At the age of ten he sang in the Cracow Philharmonic Choir and toured Germany and France, performing the works of Krisztof Penderecki.
During his time in high school, at the age of fourteen, he started to play the viola, which became his main instrument. Kukurba worked with the avant-garde jazz ensemble Mixtura. Like the other members of Polish band Kroke he studied classical music at the Music Academy of Cracow.
He was member of the Academy’s String Quartet and various other chamber orchestras, playing primarily the music of Penderecki, and joined, along with Tomasz Lato, the Sinfonietta Cracovia and an experimental jazz group.
The Yiddish word Kroke means “Cracow”. The group Kroke is strongly linked to Kazimierz, a Jewish settlement that had been an autonomous Jewish town up to the 19th century and then became the Jewish neighborhood of Cracow. Until 1939, Cracow and especially Kazimierz was one of the most important centers of Jewish cultural life in Europe.
The group was created in 1992 in Cracow on the initiative of three lifelong friends and graduates of the Cracow Academy of Music: Jerzy Bawoł (accordion), Tomasz Kukurba (bratsj) and Tomasz Lato (bass)
Having gone through the successive phases of education in classical music, and then fascination with jazz and progressive music, as Kroke they concentrate on playing and composing with the realm of authentic Jewish music. Each member of Kroke is equally strongly engaged in the creative process of the group.
Though the label “Klezmer” may indicate a certain direction, the music of Kroke is not necessarily linked to any of the styles nowadays connected with this concept. Using traditional material as the foundations on which to build ingenuous arrangements and improvisations, exploiting their previous experience, transmitting the profundity of man?s feelings and nature, Kroke creates new, unique compositions as well as a sound which is thus far unheard in Jewish music.
The release of a first cassette entitled Kroke in 1993 led to numerous invitations to festivals and concerts all over Europe. Beside their regular concerts in Cracow the group started to tour extensively. Among many other successful concerts there were highlights like the E.B.U. Contemporary Folk Festival (Roskilde/Denmark) in June 1996 and the WOMAD Festival (Reading/U.K.) in July 1997. At the same time the group intensified their work on the improvement of their technique and – through study of the sacred books – investigated the tradition and philosophy of the Jewish nation.
The mystical atmosphere of Kazimierz, the unshaken dignity of its six-hundred-year-old tradition, reflection on the sufferings of the past, on the present, on hope and trust in man, as well as common creative work found their outcome in the album titled Trio (Oriente RIENCD04), which was released 1996 in Berlin/Germany.
Kroke are: Tomasz Kukurba – violin; Jerzy Bawol – accordion; and Tomasz Lato – double bass
The original members of The Klezmatics, Alicia Svigals (violin), Dave Lindsay (bass) and Rob Chavez (clarinet) met after reading an ad in the Village Voice in 1985. Shortly after, Frank London (trumpet), of the Klezmer Conservatory Band, joined the group. Other musicians joined the band a few weeks later: Margot Leverett (clarinet), David Licht (drums) and Lorin Sklamberg (vocals, accordion)
In 1988, The Klezmatics were primarily playing clubs and parties in New York. Through the influence of Ben Mandelson of 3 Mustaphas 3, they were invited to play at the first annual Heimatklange Festival in Berlin, a proto-world music gathering held just as world music was emerging in the global consciousness. The Klezmatics played every night. At the end of the week, the festival’s organizers, who had recently formed a label called Piranha, offered them a record contract. An album, Shvaygn = Toyt (Piranha/Rounder, 1988), Yiddish for Silence = Death, was recorded live, at Radio Free Berlin (SFB). Just like that, the Klezmatics had a record company, and a future.
Musically, the band hadn’t quite found their identity. They did, however, tap sources no other Klezmer act had thought to emulate: the small American Klezmer bands of the 1930s and 1940s. They were also beginning to formulate their guiding thematic approach to music and life-seamlessly melding cultural statement (that Yiddish must be spoken, or else disappear) with historical politics (the ardent socialist anthems of their forebears) and modern activism, particularly a joyous affirmation of human rights.
Piranha’s director, Christoph Borkowsky Akbar, encouraged the band to take their time recording their second album. Borkowsky wanted the Klezmatics to find their own path and organically blend their many influences. Klezmer was the lifeblood, but the band also mined the multi-ethnic and cultural influences of New York. Mixing together Jewish drinking songs, socialism and Jewish mysticism, as well as punk, jazz and classical attitudes seemed strangely natural, as did maintaining their reputation as an ecstatic party band. This extended recording period allowed the Klezmatics to forge their own unique musical identity.
By the time they’d finished their follow-up, in 1990, the band was ready to break away from anything resembling predictability. They stated their intentions in the album’s title, Rhythm & Jews (Piranha/Rounder, 1990). Jewish music had always been thought of purely as melody; the Klezmatics felt the true backbone was rhythm, challenging the supremacy of sobbing clarinets, violins and voices. This was also the first time “Jew” appeared on the cover of a Klezmer album. By using the word, the band was boldly asserting their own brand of cultural pride: Jew Positive, a non-exclusionary belief that to find common ground with other traditions, they first had to unabashedly embrace their own.
Rhythm + Jews thrived on energy. The band brought in non-klezmer musicians like the Nubian percussionist Mahmoud Fadl, taking their source material to wildly divergent destinations. They played Eastern European melodies over Arabic and African rhythms; introduced their trademark multi-part group vocal sound (a tribute to British folk-rock pioneers Steeleye Span); and incorporated classical music’s bass clarinet into their already multitudinous palate of sounds. They also began testing the waters of writing their own music with a whirling, homoerotic interpretation of the love poetry of King David. In a pattern that would perpetually repeat itself, the Klezmatics showed that, while they would always view the world through the lens of Eastern European Jewish identity, they would not be fetishistic about it.
The Klezmatics’ next album, Jews With Horns (Piranha/Rounder, 1995) included the breakneck, pun-fueled Man in a Hat (the band’s first song in English), a Hasidic-style wordless chant and a stark, minimalist treatment of 20th century Yiddish poetry. Musical guests included electric guitarist Marc Ribot (Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, The Lounge Lizards), Canadian political folkies Moxy Frevous and New York theatrical girl rock band Betty
In 1994 the Klezmatics pulled out of the archives a century-old socialist anthem called “In kamf” (In Struggle) for the soundtrack of the AIDS epidemic documentary Fast Trip Long Drop (Sundance Grand Jury Prize nominee), about a gay Jewish man’s struggle with the disease. They put in a modern arrangement, while strengthening the link to the composition’s roots with a chorus of native Yiddish-speaking seniors, who had sung the song in their own politically active youth.
In 1995, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tony Kushner (Angels in America) furthered the Klezmatics’ collaborations when he asked the band to write the score for his adaptation of S. Ansky’s The Dybbuk, the classic Yiddish folk drama of ghostly possession. Those compositions formed the bulk of the next album, Possessed (Piranha/Rounder, 1997). Kushner also wrote the Possessed CD liner notes. The band was joined on the CD by John Medeski of Medeski, Martin and Wood, among others.
The Klezmatics next had the honor of working with acclaimed violinist Itzhak Perlman, who requested that The Klezmatics join him and three other Klezmer bands to record an album called In The Fiddler’s House (Angel/EMI, 1995). This album and ensuing tour dramatically raised the awareness of Klezmer music in the United States. As the ultimate compliment, Perlman selected six original Klezmatics compositions for inclusion on the CDs and live concerts.
The Klezmatics then paired with popular Israeli singer Chava Alberstein. Alberstein brought the band fifteen Yiddish poems set to music. The band then created striking arrangements to frame the voices of Alberstein and Sklamberg.
The resulting album, The Well (Rounder, 1998), was produced by K.D. lang collaborator Ben Mink, who also played on the recording. It remains one of the band’s favorites, not just for the music, but for the opportunity to help an artist they admire achieve a personal triumph. The Well is one of the band’s (and Ms. Alberstein’s) most popular and beloved recordings and received rave international reviews.
Their next album, Rise Up! Shteyt Oyf! (Rounder, 2002), was their first non-collaborative album in years. The album also featured a new permanent member, violinist Lisa Gutkin.
The tone of the record harkened back to Jews With Horns, with politics, religion, ecstasy and partying each vying for space, often within the same song. Some of the songs on Rise Up! had originally been commissioned for the band’?s collaboration with the innovative American dance company Pilobolus Dance Theatre.
The band’s intention at this point was to push forward with their own music, but another chance meeting would redefine their immediate future. A few years prior, after playing a concert with Perlman, they were introduced to Nora Guthrie-known to most of the world as Woody’s daughter and Arlo’s sister. The band, however, recognized her as the granddaughter of Aliza Greenblatt, an influential Yiddish poet who had lived in Coney Island and the mother of Guthrie’s Jewish wife. At the time, Guthrie didn’t recognize the importance of her grandmother to appreciators of the Yiddish language and culture. She did, however, know that her father had written a collection of Jewish songs, which she invited the band to record in much the same manner as the Billy Bragg and Wilco collections (Mermaid Avenue I & II).
Beginning in 2003, the band performed the music in a series of concerts, including a Thanksgiving celebration at Carnegie Hall, under the title “Holy Ground”. They also self-produced eight of Woody’s Hanuka songs, which resulted in an album called Woody Guthrie’s Happy Joyous Hanuka. An album of Guthrie-penned Jewish Brooklyn Americana is planned for the near future.
In 2004, Piranha invited the Klezmatics back to the Heimatklange festival, a double invite rarely extended to performers. The show’s theme that year was New York, a theme fittingly embodied by the band. At Heimatklange, the band performed with jazz vocalist/organist Kathryn Farmer, as well as Joshua Nelson, an African American Jew practitioner of Kosher Gospel who was brought up on gospel icon and collaborative superstar Mahalia Jackson. They performed a series of shows, one night of which resulted in their first live audience album, Brother Moses Smote the Water (Harmonia Mundi, 2004), featuring contributions by Nelson and Farmer.
The Klezmatic’s Brother Moses connected to every side of Klezmatics philosophy. It was a Jewish offering, half of the songs concerned Passover. It also included two audience favorites: the socialist anthem “Ale brider” (“All United”) and ‘Shnirele, perele’, a Hasidic ode to the eternal Jewish yearning for the coming of the messianic era.
The 2006 line-up included Lorin Sklamberg – vocalist / accordionist; Frank London – trumpet; Matt Darriau – multi-instrumentalist; Lisa Gutkin – fiddle; Paul Morrisett – bass / tsimbl; and David Licht – drums.
In 2016, the band released Apikorsim/Heretics (World Village). Co-founder Frank London said the idea was “to make a great recording of Yiddish and klezmer music, as only the Klezmatics can.” Sklamberg added, “It continues in the tradition that we last visited with Rise Up! Shteyt Oyf! in 2003. It’s a great collection of songs and instrumentals that could only have come from us. It is also unique in our history in that everything you hear on the recording is played or sung by members of the band. It’s our ‘roots record’, a return to the anarchic nature of some of our earlier music.”
The lineup in 2016 included Richie Barshay on percussion and vocals; Matt Darriau on alto sax, clarinet, vocals; Lisa Gutkin on violin and vocals; Frank London on trumpet, horn, vocals; Paul Morrissett on bass, tsimbl, vocals; and Lorin Sklamberg on lead vocals, accordion, guitar, piano.
The Klezmatics, the grand masters and innovators of klezmer music continue to charm with their new album, Apikorsim/Heretics. On this recording, the six musicians dig into traditional klezmer roots, although, as usual, they add contemporary elements that make their sound current.
On Apikorsim/Heretics you’ll find lively Eastern European Yiddish dance music along with powerful brass, and jazz improvisation.
As to the title of the album, group founder Lorin Sklamberg says: “It’s seriously irreverent. It says, if you’re going to do something that some people might find unkosher, enjoy it as much as possible. It’s definitely our kind of song.”
Frank London adds “We called the new album Apikorsim/Heretics for many reasons: political, philosophical and philological. Apikorsim-heretics, rebels, questioners-are people who do not conform to established attitudes and challenge orthodox opinions. And the Klezmatics are decidedly unorthodox.”
The current lineup includes Richie Barshay on percussion, vocals; Matt Darriau on alto sax, tsimbl, clarinet, vocals; Lisa Gutkin on violin, viola, octave violin, vocals; Frank London on trumpet, organ, alto horn, flugelhorn, harmonium, vocals; Paul Morrissett on bass, tsimbl, baritone horn, guitar, vocals; and Lorin Sklamberg on lead and background vocals, accordion, guitar, piano.
It’s been more than three decades since my musical tastes went global. In that time I haven’t stopped being amazed at the diversity of music that’s out there, the cross-cultural connections that led to the diversity, the influence music from other cultures can have on artists who are looking for something new (or old) and many other aspects of the whole scene that my words can’t begin to do justice to. Reminders of why a particular genre attracted me in the first place are always good and worth sharing. And hearing them expanded upon increases the pleasure factor.
Being the visionaries they were, it’s entirely possible that guitarist Django Reinhardt and violinist Stephane Grapelli knew the Gypsy Jazz style they invented in Paris in 1934 would continue to charm listeners to this day. It certainly cast a spell over singer Tatiana Eva-Marie and violinist Adrien Chevalier, who met in France’s main metropolis before taking their shared love of Gypsy Jazz to New York and forming the Avalon Jazz Band. Their debut CD Je Suis Swing (self-released, 2016) is a charmer of the first order, capturing perfectly the spark and feel of ‘30s and ‘40s Paris. Eva-Marie’s French and English vocals are as deftly phrased as they are heartfelt, sensual and wide-ranging, and the instrumental lineup of violin, dual guitars, standup bass, clarinet and accordion swings, sweeps, swaggers and swaps solos accordingly.
The songs are a mix of epochal favorites and American jazz chestnuts, each lovingly rendered by a band that presents them, to quote Eva-Marie in the liner notes, “not as a museum piece, but as an emotion suspended in time that can be accessed at any moment by a simple stretch of our romantic imaginations.” One listen to this dreamy disc will clarify exactly what she means.
I didn’t realize there was a precedent for combining klezmer music with a big band sensibility until I heard Nu Haven Kapelye on their inaugural recording What’s Nu? (Reckless DC Music, 2016). Actually, I came late to the revelation. Turns out this 30-plus member ensemble has performed live every December 25th since 1998 and do a fair number of other concert appearances. Under the direction of bassist/arranger David Chevan (of Afro-Semitic experience fame), they’re as varied in age, occupation, religion and musical background as can be.
The resulting music is wide-ranging as well, covering European and American interpretations of klezmer, evocative instrumentals, Yiddish theatre songs and even a cover of Balkan Beat Box’s “Gross.” It’s all in good jazzy fun, but there are some seriously skilled players at work, with horns, strings, reeds, guitars, accordion, drums, keyboard and the must-be-heard vocals of The Seltzer Sisters each getting a piece of the action.
There were several “hey, I know that song” moments for me (been a long, long time since I heard “Chiri Biri Bim”), and when I wasn’t having my memory tweaked I was content to simply immerse myself in music obviously created with a lot of joy and passed along in that same spirit. This is uplifting, grin-inducing stuff, maximally enjoyable from start to finish. nuhavenkapelye.com/music
You could easily assume New Orleans and Balkan brass music to be among their inspirations, but Jefferson St. Parade Band takes it considerably further with Viral (Jefferson Street Music, 2016). The title is apt- this is infectious music. While JSPB have the requisite battery of drums and horns to power them along, their electrified guitar and bass help them rock to global heights. I didn’t think an outfit of this sort would be wise to cover Jamaican dub master King Tubby, but their “Easy Dub” is wicked in the best sense, likewise their rendering of Mexican traditional tune “El Cascabel” and some uniquely danceable originals.
The disc has a short running time and only 7 tracks, but the way JSPB draws on everything from African and Latin beats to jazz, psychedelic and borderline grunge gives Viral a well-rounded feel that’ll make you want to listen repeatedly. Think of them as a horn-heavy world music jam band or a freewheeling experiment in just how tight multiple layers of rhythm and melody can be. Either way, make sure to lend them your ears. And hang on.
On the various-artists front, there’s no going wrong with African Rumba (Putumayo, 2016). Sure, much of it fits more easily under the banner of African salsa (particularly if it’s the Congolese sort of rumba the title leads you to expect), but the tracks all sizzle. Latin music is, at its core, African music, and when Cuban sounds first started reaching Africa in the 1930s, it wasn’t long before African musicians began reconnecting them with their roots. Those reconnections are here in varied forms, including the slinky “Mame” by Senegal’s Alune Wade (who also does a scorching duet with Cuban pianist Harold Lopez-Nussa), a m’balax-laced offering from Pape Fall, a classy charanga collaboration featuring Orquesta Aragon and Afia Mala, Ricardo Lemvo’s impeccable salsa/soukous blend and the ever-classic sounds of L’African Fiesta and Orchestre OK Jazz. Some uncovered bases notwithstanding (understandable for a single CD), it’s a great collection.
Particularly engaging is the kora-laced final track “Sin Murri Gossi” by Angola’s Banda Maravilha, a group previously unfamiliar to me and one I’d certainly like to hear more of.
As a percussionist myself (albeit one of no renown and questionable ability), I greatly admire what a true percussion master can achieve. Tom Teasley proves himself just such a master on Eastern Journey (T2 Music, 2016). Inspired primarily by Korean and Chinese musical modalities as well as informed by his prowess as a jazz player, Teasley employs more than 20 instruments (percussion and non-percussion alike, and he plays ‘em all) to create pieces that are beautifully ornate, melodically appealing, rhythmically intricate and all combinations thereof.
The complexity of the tracks does not render them inaccessible; rather, the combinations of sounds (including the use of uncommon instruments like the Chinese bawu oboe and kouxian jaw harp) conjure moods ranging from mystical to whimsical.
Note how the mix of HAPI drum and kalimba on “The Heart is a Flower” gives the music an especially shimmery feel, the way the underlying waltz tempo of “The Gold Cicada) is jazzed into something entirely new, or the wavy palette of sounds that comprise “The Mountain.” It’s all like a soundtrack accompanying the travelogue of your dreams, and what you hear is every bit as vivid as what you might hope to see.
“Yiddish culture as it existed in Eastern Europe can never be revived as it was. Luckily, enough of the culture has been preserved in books, on recordings and by older mentors to have allowed us to pick up the thread and be a part of our tradition, even if it has evolved into something new and different.” – Lorin Sklamberg
On September 4, at an outdoor performance at Grzybowski Square in Warsaw, the Klezmatics celebrated their thirtieth anniversary. The fruits of the group’s activity include eleven discs (released from 1989 to 2011), and, among other awards, a Grammy in the category of World Music. The crowd was large, the artists gave us a demonstration of the best music, and the weather was surprising. The concert took place as part of the 13th Singer’s Warsaw Festival.
The Klezmatics gave a concert which can be summarized briefly as an expression of joyful thanksgiving: they captivated the audience, bewitching it with their singing, passion, and sound. The show will remain in our memory as a souvenir of holiday colors and sounds.
In the Klezmatics’ music, old Yiddish melodies come back to life, mingled with the sounds of contemporary musical genres such as rock, jazz, gospel and ethno/folk. In this music, the hybrid of styles and genres serves to affirm that Yiddish music is still part of living tradition and culture. The artists do not skimp on delighting our senses, reaching on stage for more than a dozen different instruments, both traditional and modern, and singing in several languages.
Today, the Klezmatics are already Jewish music classics. They create important arrangements and interpretations of traditional Yiddish songs, changing today’s view of the Jewish and klezmer culture of Eastern Europe. Thus, in a strange way, this music connects longing and nostalgia with a passion for life, love, and joy.
For this work, thanks and great appreciation are due to Lorin Sklamberg (lead vocals, accordion, guitar, piano), Frank London (trumpet, keyboards, vocals), Lisa Gutkin (violin, vocals), Matt Darriau (kaval, clarinet, saxophone, vocals), Paul Morrissett (bass, tsimbl, vocals), and Richie Barshay (percussion instruments).
French Klezmer clarinetist and composer Yom dedicates Songs for the Old Man to his father. His previous 7 albums were indirectly dedicated to his maternal Jewish ancestry of Transylvania. This time, Yom follows his father’s experience in the USA. Songs for the Old Man combines Klezmer-clarinet melodies with Americana-style guitars such as dobro and steel guitar.
The lineup on the album includes Yom on clarinets; Aurélien Naffrichoux on electric guitar, steel guitar, and baritone guitar; Guillaume Magne on guitars, dobro, banjo; Sylvain Daniel on bass; and Mathieu Penot on drums.
Songs for the Old Man is a fascinating cinematic adventure representing the vast American landscapes combined with Eastern European Klezmer tunes.
Adrianne Greenbaum is known as both a classical flutist and clinician and as the leading klezmer flutist performing today. She is founder of two ensembles, FleytMuzik and The Klezical Tradition klezmer band where she is also pianist and leader of Yiddish dance. She is on the faculties of KlezKamp and KlezKanada, has taught at Klezmerquerque and Boxwood, and has presented master classes and workshops in universities and conservatories across the US. For their European debut FleytMuzik was a charter performer at the KlezMore Festival in Vienna.
Greenbaum has also performed with other well known klezmer ensembles and collaborated with numerous cantors as both pianist and flutist. Adrianne is also a published arranger and composer. Her self-published klezmer compositions include solo flute repertoire as well as an arrangement of traditional klezmer with flute solo and orchestra.
Greenbaum is taking on the revival of flute in klezmer by performing in a strict traditional style and performing on vintage flutes from the 19th century to portray an accurate representation of the sound of the old klezmorim.
Adrianne received her Bachelor of Music from the Oberlin College Conservatory her Master of Music from the Yale School of Music. After many years with the New York City Ballet Orchestra as well as teaching at various universities including Wesleyan and Yale, she is currently Principal Flutist with the New Haven Symphony Orchestra and Associate Professor at Mount Holyoke College where she teaches flute as well as the 5-College klezmer band.
The sounds of various regions of Pakistan and klezmer come together in the new project called Sandaraa. The debut album incorporates the impressive vocals of Pakistani singer-songwriter Zeb Bangash and Brooklyn-based virtuoso clarinetist Michael Winograd.
The two musicians first met at the Pakistani Embassy as part of a US tour. They reconnected at NYU in Abu Dhabi. Inspired by Dari, Pashto and Baluchi music, a new band was formed that recreated Pakistani folk music with new arrangements that incorporate klezmer elements.
“As a band we’re steeped in Western technique and theory,” says Winograd. “We have thought about the ideal show we’d like to present, about how folk songs can work when we play them as a group.”
The lineup on the upcoming Sandaraa album includes Zebunnisa Bangash on vocals; Michael Winograd on clarinet; Eylem Basaldi on violin; Patrick Farrell on accordion and Farfisa; Yoshie Fruchter on electric guitar and oud; Richie Barshay on drums and percussion; and David Lizmi on bass. Benjy Fox-Rosen appears as guest bassist on one track.
Sandaraa showcases the intensive and fascinating alchemy between two musicians from two very distant musical traditions.
Rounder Records has reissued Oy Chanukah! By The Klezmer Conservatory Band. The reissue is part of Rounder’s back catalog world music albums released into full digital distribution.
The Klezmer Conservatory Band, founded by Hankus Netsky at the New England Conservatory in Boston, has become an institution, with its deft celebration of klezmer music—both its roots and its new directions.
Oy Chanukah! Showcases the fusion of the traditional music of Eastern European Jews and American jazz.