07 July 2008
Review: “Borsht with Bread, Brothers” Klezmer
Yale Strom & Hot Pstromi
Yale Strom has been on the Klezmer scene for many years and has collected a large repertoire from the Eastern Europe countries that once were the center of Yiddish culture. Strom refers to himself as an Ethnographer, a term I was not familiar with. Strom studies the culture of the people that live in the various towns and regions and analyzes how the Jews interacted with the cultures of their host nations and, by extension, the influences these cultures had on each others’ music.
In the case of “Borsht with Bread, Brothers” Strom uses the band to transport the listener to those faraway lands where itinerant musicians traveled the countryside and village bands played for every occasion. Of particular interest to Strom is the interaction between the Jews and Rom (Gypsy) people. The music of these two cultures existed side by side for centuries, and musicians learned to play both styles.
The music here represents the material Strom found on his many visits to Eastern Europe. He walks a fine line between faithfulness to the original field recordings he made and his original compositions that push Klezmer music into new sonic realms. The result is a freshness that brings the art form to a new level, the sound of transforming the village band into a modern entity, able to hold the attention of traditionalists as well as lovers of new music.
Hot Pstromi, itself a play on Strom’s name, is easily able to convey the feel of the village band as it would have been heard from Romania to Bessarabia, Russia, Poland, and Germany. Even Strom’s new compositions are in the same style, so one has to listen closely to find where the new sections are.
The album contains four Yiddish vocal selections featuring contralto Elizabeth Schwartz. Schwartz brings emotional depth to the material, and adds a bit of spontaneity to Ver Es ken Keseyder Tseyln, a wedding song from Ukraine embellished with batkhones, traditional singing/talking. I also liked Szol A Kakos Mar, with lyrics in Hungarian and Hebrew. This song is not like anything I’ve heard before. It comes from Hungary, where the Rom musicians still remember the Hebrew lyrics. It gives the feeling of Jewish Mysticism.
Another favorite song was Kalarasher Bulgar. This tune from Moldova changes character, starting as a nice slow bulgar, then changing to a fast freylekhs. I have to particularly mention David Licht on Percussion and Sprocket on Bass who together drive the band with a great style- traditional but with a bit of zip.
I must also mention Ben Avrameni, an original by Strom based on music he heard while traveling in Romania. It has an interesting violin/whistling duet opening, then changes to a sort of extended Gypsy jam with lots of room for solos from the band members and some vocalizing from Strom.
The included booklet is 36 pages with excellent information on the album’s concept, history of the band, musician bios, track descriptions, and song lyrics in Yiddish and English. The booklet is in English, French, German, and Spanish, a nice touch that I have found from ARC Music releases. There are also some great photos of the old-time musicians Strom encountered during his travels.
The sound quality is outstanding. The work by Michael Broby, Tripp Sprague, and Diz Heller brings the band to life. The disc sounds terrific on my home theater as well as on headphones, with deep, crisp bass, light drums, clear vocals, and a nuanced sound on the flutes and pennywhistle. My only criticism would be that the Tenor Sax sounds a bit harsh in a couple of spots. Otherwise, it has a consistent sound overall, which is a great accomplishment since the tracks are from studios in New York and California.
It’s always interesting for me to hear bands like Hot Pstromi, whose music comes from years of research and dedication to preserving this musical language nearly lost in the Holocaust. I admire Strom for his dedication and ability to interpret the material in a way that is both entertaining and truthful.
“Borsht with Bread, Brothers” Klezmer
Yale Strom & Hot Pstromi
2007 ARC Music Productions Int. Ltd.
Hot Pstromi MySpace