The Klezmatics

Jews with Horns

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Picture the Reverend Horton Heat with a yarmulke, if you like. Or "Fiddler on the Roof" with Coltraneian complexity. Just don't expect somber religious music. The Klezmatics' brand of Jewish klezmer is as spirited as it is spiritual. The fast numbers, which dominate their third album, are frenzied celebratory drinking songs -- a true revival of the community spirit which spawned this eastern European brand of folk music. All that happiness poses a sequencing challenge: Where do you put the few downbeat stylistic diversions (a Yiddish labor song from 1889; a thunderously moving, jazzy clarinet improvisation; an eerie poem with a classical arrangement)? Jews With Horns suffers a little for hiding most of its variety at the end of the album. But that's a quibble in the face of such top-notch musicianship. The Klezmatics have proved they can play with the best in any genre (including classical music's top violinist, Itzhak Perlman). This album includes a rock guitar cameo by Marc Ribot, who also has played with a host of goyish hipsters (including Sam Phillips, Peter Case, and T-Bone Burnett). Ribot is not the only source of modernity on the record -- the Klezmatics' stuff has been called post-modern because of its blend of genres. That label, however, suggests that this is something new under the sun, and it isn't. Klezmer itself was born of genre fusion, as Jews assimilated into Europe. Whatever the stylistic frills, though, the heart of the Klezmatics' music can be summed up in this loopy lyric: "Oy oy oy oy, live it up kids, that's the way!"

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