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Klezwoods: Oy Yeah!

Bruce Lindsay By

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From the opening bass, snare drum and accordion of "Ki Eshmera," the Boston-based Klezwoods deliver a beautifully structured and performed collection of traditional tunes on its debut, Oy Yeah!. The nine-piece band moves from haunting ballads to frenzied dance tunes with ease, adding an intriguing original tune from clarinetist Alec Spiegelman for good measure.

Kletzwoods is led by violinist Joe Kessler, a versatile player who has worked with Morphine and the Robert Plant/Jimmy Page reunion band. Kessler describes Klezwoods' music as "music of the Ottoman Empire." It's as good a description as any, for most of these tunes originate from East European countries such as Greece, Turkey, and Bulgaria—but it fails to convey the delight and joyousness contained within the tunes and expressed wonderfully by the band.

"Ki Eshmera," a Yemenite Jewish song taught to Kessler by his father, Jack, is given a funky groove by courtesy of Greg Loughman's bass but there is also a plaintive quality to the tune, beautifully expressed by Sam Dechenne's trumpet solo. In contrast, the Bulgarian "Gankino Oro" is unmistakably upbeat and optimistic—Tev Stevig, whose guitar playing is exceptional throughout the album, creates a fine single note solo here.

"Cuperlika," from Macedonia, is another lovely tune with a sense of longing expressed by Kessler's violin and Dechenne's trumpet. "Hey Lady" is klezmer with a hint of reggae and a touch of avant-garde, thanks to Spiegelman's clarinet. The entire band races through "Chassidic Medley No 1" with gusto, on the other hand, underpinned by Jim Gray's richly-toned tuba and Jeremy Gustin's urgent and driving drums.

Spiegelman's "Giant Jew" is based on John Coltrane's "Giant Steps." Speigelman leads the tune on clarinet rather than saxophone; his solo is smooth and sweet, the tune hinting at the Coltrane original rather than simply replicating it. The result references modern jazz but still sits perfectly alongside Oy Yeah's more traditional tunes.

Kletzwoods draws its influences and tunes from across cultural, religious and political borders to create Oy Yeah! It's an eclectic, energetic and happy album that demonstrates music's power to lift the spirits.

Track Listing: Ki Eshmera; Gankino Oro; Bahar Dansi; Mache Teynista; Cuperlika; Hey Lady; Nassam Aleyna; Syrtos; Giant Jew; Chassidic Medley No. 1.

Personnel: Sam Dechenne: trumpet; Jim Gray: tuba; Alec Spiegelman: clarinet, saxophone; Tev Stevig: electric guitar; Joe Kessler: violin; Greg Loughman: bass; Michael McLaughlin: accordion; Brian O'Neill: percussion; Jeremy Gustin: drums.

Title: Oy Yeah! | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: Accurate Records


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