Kazutoki Umezu


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Well, it had to happen sooner or later. It was only a matter of time before the world would experience its first Japanese klezmer big band, and what a joy it is. Saxophonist Kazutoki Umezu, in some ways the John Zorn of Japanese avant-garde jazz (he's worked with many of the downtown New York crowd), assembled Betsuni Nanmo Klezmer, a 19-piece ensemble, and delivered Ahiru, a joyous explosion of klezmer tunes as seen from afar. "Odessa Bulgarish," a ripsnorting dance number, leads off the disc, a wonderful basis for strong solos and extremely tight arrangements. The next two pieces are both fantastic in and of themselves and display awesome chutzpah: "Tum Balalayke" and "Bay Mir Bistu Sheyn." The sheer nerve in trotting out these warhorses, replete with Yiddish and English vocals, would be enough to make one bow one's head in admiration, but Umezu pulls them off with such aplomb, good humor, and imagination that the listener just shakes his head in amazement. The compositions combine a solid conviction in the music with freewheeling imagination in such a way that a klezmer fan presented with them in a blindfold test would arguably be very hard-pressed to identify them as being of Asian origin. Ahiru is a very fine argument for the idea of klezmer music being transcendent over national and cultural boundaries. When they close with "Dos Geshrey Fun der Vilder Katshke," a ridiculously fantastic arrangement of Mickey Katz' parodied Western song "The Cry of the Wild Goose," one has -- almost -- become inured to the shock, the gall. Then one collapses into helpless, overjoyed laughter. An amazing album.

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