When Klezmokum's Dutch debut album was released in 1997, it sent shock waves all over the klezmer world. Here was the band that inspired downtown New Yorkers to get into the music in the first place, and made profound impressions on those who had been playing the music for decades, such as Andy Statman and Frank London. Led by free jazz pianist Burton Greene, and featuring the twin clarinet attack of Perry Robinson and Hans Mekel with a rhythm section comprised of Roberto Haliffi's drums and Larry Fishkind's tuba, Klezmokum is a truly international ensemble from three different countries and two continents. The music on this first album is perhaps the most indicative of how deep their roots in this tradition go. All but three of the ten tunes are traditional tunes, and of the originals, only the unbelievably insane, improvisationally wired "El Khalil" deviates very much from accepted forms -- though those forms are as varied in Jewish music as they are anywhere else -- from the traditional Yiddish dances to the Sephardim folk traditions -- and move deeply into jazz territory. Both clarinetists carry the tune into out territory while retaining the minor key structures and scalar arpeggiated nuances necessary for music to remain "klezmer." Greene is a pianist in search of new harmonic expression and uses a combination of chromaticism and lyricism to find it with this rhythm section colored texturally by Fishkind's truly inventive tuba playing. On "Der Das Nigun" (Street Tune), the hustle and bustle of the marketplace is full swing (yes, swing -- even from their deep Ashkenazic root spring). Both Perry Robinson and Hans Mekel cross each other through the melody, changing key signatures via a minor seventh stretch by Greene and move the tune up into another node, departing from tradition in form but keep it in melody and feeling. Throughout, Klezmokum's use of archaic song forms as a means for modern improvisation in the traditions that are melded here so seamlessly is a cause for celebration, and yes, dancing.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek