Diatonic Harmonica CDs are certainly not on many jazz fans “Best of” lists. As designed, it is not a jazz instrument and is more at home with straight blues or country. Players like Toots Thielemans use a chromatic harp in order to go beyond second position and get that jazzy feel. Recently, Howard Levy and John Popper have redefined the diatonic instrument and through full bends, overblows and breath control have opened up the instrument to jazz, Caribbean and mid-eastern influenced world music. The new CD Harmonica Galitzianer
by Levy pupil and burgeoning Canadian harmonica wizard, Jason Rosenblatt, extends the simple diatonic even further into the world of klezmer and klez-jazz.
This is no mere novelty record. The playing is focused and reflects the band’s commitment to their music. Backed on accordion by the inimitable “So-Called”, Josh Dolgin, who has fused klez-jazz with hip-hop and techno, a repertoire of klez standards and some novel arrangements of more obscure material delight the listener. Thierry Arsenault and Ariel Harrod, on drum and bass respectively, provide just the right amount of punch to allow Jason to slip effortlessly between genres without allowing the CD to become a parody of styles. With a nod to klez revival father Andy Statman and homage to klez grandfathers Dave Tarras, Mickey Katz and Shloimke Beckerman, Jason and his band Shtreiml break new ground while keeping true to the music’s roots and “soul”.
The bluesy aspects of the harp are still in evidence and at times Jason fuses disparate styles into a true “klez-jazz/blues”. On tunes like the re-workings of “Para Adumah” and “Galitzianer Tantz”, Little Walter meets Shloimke Beckerman and the harmonica melds the two traditions. Bulgar Popular is taken at breakneck speed and showcases some awesome breath control as Popper’s style is klezified while Alte Sher is Mid-Eastern with rock overtones. The lovely duet “Romanian Sirba”, with guest tsimbalist Pete Rushefsky, has an Appalachian dulcimer/country feel to it while “German’s Moldavian Bulgar” is an up-tempo treatment of a selection from the repertoire of German Goldenshteyn.
This is a premier effort from young cutting edge musicians who are not afraid to push limits and redefine genres. Although the two vocal selections would be more at home on a Yiddish theatre CD, this is mostly fresh new music that stretches boundaries for traditionalists and opens up new musical experiences for jazz and blues fans.
Personnel: Jason Rosenblatt-harmonica, Josh Dolgin-accordion,Thierry
Arsenault-drums, percussion, Ariel Harrod-bass, Abby "Mom"
Rosenblatt-vocals (tracks 5,9), Pete Rushefsky-Tsimble (track 12)