Cafe International: Top 10 Jewish CDs of All-Time

December 31st, 2003

Klezmatics: The Well, Rise Up! and Possessed (tie)

It is hard to pick a favorite CD from this leading Klezmer supergroup – so I cheated and picked three. Like most Klezmatics’ recordings, these CDs feature a captivating blend of traditional Yiddish melodies fueled with dynamic jazz and rock arrangements and a heavy dose of social activism (tacking everything from religious fundamentalism to homophobia). All of the band members are in top form, including Frank London’s spirited singing trumpet, Matt Darriau’s soulful sax and clarinet, David Licht’s punchy percussion section, along with Paul Morrissett rounding out the sound with bass, piano, and wonderful tsimbl playing. Accordionist Loren Sklamberg is in top form with his trademark evocative vocals, reaffirming his position as the leading voice in the Yiddish world. Alicia Svigals isn’t on Rise Up! after moving on (now with the group, Mikveh), and consequently the Klezmatics’ current sound relies more heavily on accordion, tsimbl, and brass on some numbers. Rise Up! is worth the $16 just for the Klezmatics’ mesmerizing version of Holly Near’s rebel anthem, “I Ain’t Afraid.” Here the Klezmatics come up with a spectacular bilingual (English and Yiddish) song that indicts both sides of the current war on terrorism. The song is so infectious, it is hard to believe that Near’s original version wasn’t a klezmer tune. Possessed is also full of captivating songs, most notably Sphrays Ikh Mir. The Well is yet another timeless recording, a result of a magnificent collaboration between the Klezmatics and Chava Alberstein. Here, Alberstein to sets treasured Yiddish poetry to music, complete with brilliant musical arrangements and performances by the Klezmatics, and the exquisite touches of Grammy award winning producer Ben Mink (K.D. Lang).