Live at Town Hall

The Klezmatics

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Live at Town Hall Review

by William Ruhlmann

The Klezmatics celebrate their 25th anniversary in 2011 by belatedly releasing Live at Town Hall, a recording of a concert held to mark their 20th anniversary in 2006. The show, held at a venerable auditorium adjacent to Times Square in New York City, provides a history of the eclectic klezmer group, with old bandmembers rejoining as special guests for the night, and the set list constituting a chronological summary of the different musical associations the Klezmatics undertook in their first two decades. This means, for example, that clarinetist Margot Leverett, from the original lineup, sits in on "Bobe Tanz," while another clarinetist, David Krakauer, who was with the Klezmatics as early as their second album, Rhythm & Jews (1990), brings his Ornette Coleman-like sound to a horn medley from that album and its successor, Jews with Horns (1995). The group is known for its unusual collaborations, and these are documented, starting with the "Dybbuk Suite," music written with playwright Tony Kushner for his play A Dybbuk: Between Two Worlds and originally featured on the Klezmatics album Possessed (1997). Joshua Nelson contributes soulful vocals to "Elijah Rock," one of two selections from the klezmer/gospel hybrid album Brother Moses Smote the Water (2005). The Klezmatics' forays into topical and traditional American folk music are explored in Adrienne Cooper's rendition of Holly Near's "I Ain't Afraid" ("I ain't afraid of your Yahweh/I ain't afraid of your Allah/I ain't afraid of your Jesus/I'm afraid of what you do in the name of your god") from Rise Up! Shteyt Oyf! (2002), and several selections from the two albums the group crafted from the unpublished lyrics of Woody Guthrie, Woody Guthrie's Happy Joyous Hanukka (2004; "Hanuka Gelt") and Wonder Wheel (2006; "Holy Ground," "Lolly Lo"). That is enough to establish the Klezmatics' diversity and progressivism, but there is also plenty of traditional-sounding klezmer music here to satisfy the band's core audience, making for a good summary of their career thus far.

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