Most musicians who continue to redefine klezmer don’t really remember it, however legendary drummer Elaine Hoffman Watts, as her new CD proclaims, certainly does. The klezmer she remembers, and that serves as her inspiration, is the Philadelphia sound defined by her father and accomplished xylophonist/percussionist Jacob Hoffman of “Jakie Jazz ‘Em Up” fame. A “true” klezmer dynasty, new versions of heretofore unrecorded songs from Elaine’s grandfather, cornetist and bandleader Joseph Hoffman, are also presented in a fresh style that stays true to its roots. I Remember Klezmer: The Art of Klezmer Drumming highlights Elaine Hoffman Watts’ signature drumming style and continues the Hoffman legacy by featuring the exquisite Manny Klein/Chet Baker trumpet stylings of her daughter Susan.
Trilling trumpet and authentic rhythms delight on cuts such as “Freilach 21,” “Lakeleh” and “Freilach,” while the band’s full sound and perfect grasp of this klezmer genre are heard on the traditional “Chasidishe” and “Bagopolier” freilachs, the latter of which finds a ragtime breather before plunging ahead in perfect step. Classically trained and heiress to her own klezmer dynasty, trombonist Rachael Lemisch is a standout throughout and expertly takes the lead on the wonderful “Shtetl Ias.”
Do not expect a re-hashed note for note presentation of old 78s. Each song is fresh and reflects Susan’s creative approach as accordionist Kat Flagg and tubaists Travis Johnson and Jay Krush meld snugly with drummer Elaine’s beats. “I’ll Just Keep Going Rhumba” transports us through a dub-like sampled time warp to meet Jacob’s xylophone, setting the stage for a journey that is nostalgic yet now.
Trumpet master Frank London and fellow NYC downtown drumming denizens Aaron Alexander and David Licht join the band with Elaine Hoffman Watts pupil and Motown drumming star Gerry Brown for an updated reprise of Jacob Hoffman’s often imitated “Gasa Nign.” In this version, Susan’s lovely contralto scats the nign in a haunting intro that breathes new life into this classic chestnut.
All four drummers are also featured on a somewhat out version of “Zigainer Tantz” and the closer, “Aveenu Malkeynu,” against which Susan sings a deeply heartfelt lyric that's faithful to the song’s intent. The album’s featured piece is “Eateleh’s Suiteleh,” which begins with perhaps the first ever recorded drum doina, which then melds into some soulful tension building trumpet trilling followed by the rhythmical release of “Eateleh Freilach.” Yes, Elaine Hoffman Watts remembers klezmer and her memory rings true on this delightfully contemporary family affair.
This independent release is available at CD Baby.com (see right panel).
Drums: Elaine Hoffman Watts, Gerry Brown, David Licht, Aaron Alexander;
Trumpet: Susan Watts, Frank London;
Trombone: Rachel Lemisch;
Tuba: Travis Johnson, Jay Krush;
Accordion: Kat Flagg;
Xylophone Excerpt: Jacob Hoffman.