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With their exuberance, musicianship and ability to have any audience get up and dance, The Klez Dispensers have become the house band for klezmer's newest wave. New Jersey Freylekhs draws inspiration from the experimental jazz/Jewish interchanges of the late '50s where bop added to klezmer's established relationship with swing.
It is obvious throughout that the Dispensers are filled with "players"; clarinetist/saxophonist Alex Kontorovich, trumpeter Ben Holmes and saxophonist Audrey Betsy Wright use the genre to highlight their technical ability while maintaining the requisite melodic respect. Amy Zakar's heartfelt violin alternates between Jewish and swing to impart warmth that touches the soul. While the band's take on traditional tunes, like their arrangement of "Dave's Freylekhs," where Kontorovich's clarinet brings back clarinetist Dave Tarras; and "Abi Gezunt," which has Amy's swing violin conjuring up Stephane Grappelli, do delight, it is the newly composed music and arrangements that most impress such as the Ben Holmes compositions "Doina," "Karnofsky Tanz" and the title cut.
"Doina" draws its effectiveness from Holmes' restraint as he holds each note while delicately rolling it around until it subtly changes as he spits it out. His "Karnofsky Tanz" serves as the perfect up-tempo release with each instrumentalist taking a turn on the dance floor. The title cut begins with a traditional sound, as the piano of Adrian Banner pumps along the rhythm with drummer Gregg Mervine leading violin, clarinet, trumpet and sax to find interesting changes. Banner likewise proves to be a strong composer and arranger as he blends the classical piano/violin duet of "Freymilekh" into an introductory doina, followed by some hot avant klez freylekhing. Banner's version of "Der Heyser Bulgar" takes things further out as Kontorovich switches to baritone sax, and with Ed Browne's electric bass, turns what begins as a stately violin/trumpet duet into a modern downtown NYC klez blow out.
As a kid, my mom told me I'd like jazz. I thought she was nuts. Then I went to hear Cannonball Adderley (with Nat Adderley, George Duke, Walter Booker, Roy McCurdy and Airto) and everything changed. Yeah, mom knows best.