Portland’s Klezmocracy offers up jazzy new CD
By ELIZABETH SCHWARTZ
article created on: 2011-06-15T00:00:00
Portland’s hard-driving klezmer-flavored jazz combo Klezmocracy released its second CD, Reach, at a June 11 party at the Alberta Rose Theatre in northeast Portland.
It’s been seven years since Klezmocracy released their first self-titled CD, and, say founding band members Joe Janiga (drums) and Ralph Huntley (keyboard), the new CD charts new territory for the group, in more ways than one.
“Reach represents a bit of a departure for us from the format of deconstructing pure klezmer,” says Huntley. “It’s more of a jazz album with serious nods to our love of klezmer and our experience playing klezmer, but we also embraced just about everything else we love.”
Everything else includes Afro-Cuban, rock, fusion, cabaret, blues and what Huntley calls “trance music.”
When Klezmocracy formed 10 years ago, the band members brought with them an impressive collective resume.
Janiga, Huntley and saxophonist Courtney Von Drehle, the core of Klezmocracy, met while playing with Do Jump! Theatre.
Von Drehle and Janiga also played in 3 Leg Torso, which combines chamber music, tango, klezmer, Latin and world music.
All the members have a strong grounding in jazz, the foundation of their sound.
Huntley is the sole Jewish member of the group, but discovered klezmer only as an adult.
“In the early ’90s, a friend of mine commented that my stuff ‘sounded like klezmer,’ but that was before I had really immersed myself in the music,” Huntley says. “I think it was always in my blood.”
Both Janiga and Von Drehle have an affinity for klezmer as well, Von Drehle through his years as a founding member of 3 Leg Torso, and Janiga by playing with a bar mitzvah band in Eugene, as well as his love of the avant-garde klezmer of John Zorn.
“I was very much drawn to the dramatic major/minor sound and highly rhythmic nature of [klezmer] melodies,” says Janiga, “and I was also attracted to the passion of Jewish people in regards to community, food, drink and dance.”
Janiga adds, “During our early days as a band, Lev Liberman of The Klezmorim and Yankl Falk, founding host of the Portland Yiddish Hour, really schooled us and exposed all of us to very traditional klezmer music, which had only a clarinet, violin and a bass drum with a cymbal on it. Traditional klezmer does not use bass, piano or drum set, so we were on our own in deciding how to integrate it all.”
On June 11, Klezmocracy, joined by guest vocalist Cantor Deborah Bletstein of Neveh Shalom and Yiddish Hour co-host and reed specialist Ed Kraus, put on an energetic two-and-a-half hour show.
They performed all the songs from Reach, plus a few from their first CD, as well as several bluesy versions of liturgical melodies, including “Oseh Shalom,” “V’Shamru” and “Mizmor L’David” with Bletstein and Kraus.
The eclectic mix of styles generally worked well; a wickedly demented “deconstruction” of the Israeli tune “Hava Netze” sounded like a cross between a traffic pileup and a late-night jam session, while Janiga’s original tune “Slow Beginnings,” which shifts between major and minor tonalities, cast a meditative spell through the theatre.
Perhaps the most “out there” of the selections on Reach is “My I Am,” which Janiga calls “another deconstruction very loosely utilizing a small bit of [the Israeli dance tune] “Mayim,” fused with Black Sabbath, in 7/16 time.”
Both Kraus and Bletstein appreciate Klezmocracy’s musicianship and unique perspective. “It’s been lots of fun to put Jewish music, both liturgical and secular, into [Klezmocracy’s] creative mix, and see what gets lobbed back at us,” says Kraus.
Bletstein adds, “They are top-shelf musicians...singing with them is pure fun and excitement.”
For more information about Klezmocracy, including upcoming appearances, or to buy their CDs, visit www.klezmocracy.com.