Merlin Shepherd Kapelye

Intimate Hopes and Terrors

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It's not often you have the chance to listen to klezmer music that's this good. The compositions, all by Merlin Shepherd Kapelye, hark back to European klezmer, rather than the American music it became, and the playing, with virtually all the musicians coming from Eastern Europe, has a sense of rootedness. The entire group is peopled by virtuosos, not the least of which is Shepherd himself on clarinet. There's plenty of improvisation, like the exquisite violin on "Gorgeous," but they can also play like a small orchestra, as they do with deliberately wonky stateliness on "Brand New." There's an abundance of sly good humor here -- "One Note Sriba," for instance, slides around gleefully, while "The Tongue" is a masterclass in brilliantly twisted lines. Although it's Shepherd's album, he doesn't hog all the good lines, giving plenty of room to others to show their often stunning abilities. Klezmer at its very best.