This Cleveland, Ohio-based quintet pays occasional
tongue-in-cheek tribute to the un-hip, mid-20th century era of klezmer, when it
was merely just a part of a Jewish dance band's repertoire, alongside swing,
cha-chas, jazz and Mickey Katz's Catskill novelties. There is, however, plenty
of well-played, vintage Dave Tarras and Naftule Brandwein to be found here.
Steve Ostrow injects the latter's "Der Yidisher Soldat in Di Trenshes" with some New Orleans-style sassiness on trumpet, and digs into his fiddle for a poignant version of Brandwein's "Di Tayereste in Bukovina."
And the group's adept leader, clarinetist Bert Stratton, knows his way through a bulgar backwards and forwards, as evinced on the aptly-titled medley "Be Fat Bulgars."
Vocalist Irwin Weinberger tackles Katz's "That's Amore" parody, called "That's Morris," and acquits himself well on the contemporary Hasidic melody "Shabbos Nign," a bouncy version of the Yiddish standard "Mekhuteneste Mayne," and a swingin' rendition of the Barry Sisters' "Zug Es Mir Nokhamol."
Nor is the group afraid to stretch out, as they do on an intriguing medley of "Kandel's Hora" -- played as an Old World-style flute-tsimbl duet -- and a percussive, Middle Eastern-influenced version of Brandwein's "Fun Tashlikh" that nods toward the Klezmatics.
The Yiddish staple "Rozhinkes Mit Mandeln" starts out with Weinberger singing the lullaby straight to guitar accompaniment until a theremin plays a fiddle-like verse -- undoubtedly the first time the proto-electronic instrument has found its way onto a klezmer album.
Stratton puts heart and soul, however, into a remake of Dave Tarras' "Gypsy," from the landmark 1956 album Tanz, and it's on this number that the ensemble really jells. -- Seth Rogovoy (author of the Essential Klezmer, Algonquin Books).