Review: Spice It Up!
Red Hot Chachkas
Spice It Up! is the second release by Red Hot Chachkas, of the San Francisco Bay area. The group has an eclectic sound with truly inventive arrangements of both traditional and original works. Many of the songs are composed or arranged by the band members. Some songs defy classification. They can be a blend of styles that merge into a wonderful sound that is a refreshing listening experience. All of the tracks are outstanding, but here are the the ones that really struck me.
Kostanowsky’s Sher No. 4 is a traditional sher dance that sets the tone for the album and is a jumping-off point for all that follows.
What happens when you combine Reggae with a nice Chosidl? The result is Barbara Speed’s Chosidl Diddle, which gives a new perspective on the traditional dance style. It works very well here, and the rhythm adds energy to this nice tune.
Speed gives us another great offering in Stomp It Up, a song that starts out as a Bulgar by the Clarinet, then changes to Bluegrass by the fiddle, with a nice clarinet/fiddle duet, and a somewhat Zydeco Accordion. There is a short open solo section, then we are taken through the cycle again for the finish. It’s a wonder how much music can be packed into two and a half minutes!
In a return to traditional dance, Tanz Medley is a great example of the band’s Klezmer roots. Beckerman’s Hora, Belf’s Chosidl, and Pedotser’s Tants make up this set, with some creative drumming by Michael Arrow in the middle section. Time to get up and dance!
Little Gouda is my favorite track on the album. It has a little bit of everything. It starts with a melancholy Bass solo, then the Violin takes over the melody in a slow Hora tempo, followed by the Clarinet. The song then takes a fast tempo, and runs away with a bluegrass-style Fiddle/Clarinet duo. A transition to a Bulgar gives us room for solos by the Accordion, Clarinet, and Violin. Then everyone comes back in for a high-energy finish. This is a great showcase for the Chachkas.
Cholent is more progressive in style, a free improv by the Viola and Sax. It creates an interesting mood, and show’s the group’s versatility.
A pleasant surprise is when the Chachkas turn Barbara Speed loose with her Flute on Sholom and beautiful Alto Flute on Son Kuslar, the latter a Turkish-inspired offering that is a real gem.
Shofar is another Hora, but this one comes across with an Irish feel. It’s a lovely tune, and I think the style is great and shows another side of the group.
The last track, Rocky Hora, is my favorite song title (though it has nothing in common with the similar-titled movie). This is an extended piece, at just over nine minutes, and is a great solo vehicle for the band members. The band shifts gears again, switching the instrumentation to Sax, Electric Violin, Accordion, and Electric Mandolin. The piece is a bit edgier than the others, and is a great closer for the album. Just when I thought I’d heard all that the band has to offer, they surprise yet again.
The CD package includes descriptions of each song and some nice photos of the band members. If you choose to download the tracks instead, the same information can be found on the band’s website.
The recording quality and mix is excellent, sounding equally vibrant on earbuds and in my home theater. As they claim from the liner notes: “Everything on this CD was recorded live in the studio, with no overdubs or patches.” It takes great musicianship to do that, and it shows. My only complaint would be that there’s a bit too much room ambience on the clarinet.
With 18 tracks and over 72 minutes of music, you really get your money’s worth from the album. To sum up, this is a terrific recording by a top notch group. If you’re ready for a wide-ranging adventure in Klezmer, you should give the Red Hot Chachkas a listen. They really know how to Spice It Up!
Spice It Up!
Red Hot Chachkas
Red Hot Chachkas
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