29 April 2009
Review: Klezmer Killed The Radio Star
Review: Klezmer Killed The Radio Star
I’ve been following Mames Babegenush for the last couple of years and have been looking forward to the release of their debut album, Klezmer Killed The Radio Star. The wait is over, and I can tell you that this is an album that is destined to make its mark on the Klezmer landscape. The Denmark-based sextet has a sound that combines the best parts of old and new Klezmer to create a sound all their own. Imagine traditional European Klezmer, filtered through mid-20th century American Klezmer styles of New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago, then updated with a modern European twist. They have a big sound, led by a horn section comprised of Clarinet, Trumpet, and Sax. The result is a very entertaining Klezmer sub-genre that is my personal favorite. The talent here runs deep, from soul-searching Doina to the wild madness of the Sirba and Bulgar. They have a knack for playing in both a straight traditional style and then switching to a more rock-influenced style. Both work very well and show a respect for the music’s roots as well as pushing the envelope just a little.
I’m not going to try to pick a favorite song, because they are all great songs and medleys. Many are longtime favorites that I have played myself, and some are new to me. The arrangements are very good and give each soloist plenty of space.
The opening track, Noch Der Havdole, starts with a quiet Accordion intro, then adds Drums in a very traditional Klezmer style. The Horns and Bass join and start to build up the song and pick up the tempo to the end. I really liked the Sax counter melody, a nod to the New York style that I like so much. Nice use of the Wood Block, too.
Tepliker Sher starts with heavy Bass and Rock Drums, then the Accordion joins before the Horns come in with the melody. This is probably the fastest I have heard this song performed, building up a good head of steam right to the end.
Bessarabian Hora/Sirba is a nice change of pace, a slow ¾ Hora to start. I know this one as Romanian Hora and I like this arrangement for the nice background accompaniment with the Trumpet, Sax, and Clarinet taking solo turns. The Sirba picks up the tempo into a nice two-beat tune with Clarinet, Sax, and Muted Trumpet. The tune changes again into a Bulgar and picks up the tempo some more. A clever false ending brings on yet another tune, keeping the energy going right to the end.
Clarinetist Emil Goldschmidt takes on the Doina with a soulful and traditional sound that evokes the style of Brandwein and Tarras. Trumpeter Bo Rande takes over to start In A Rumeynisher Shenk, still in a slow tempo. He gets a sweet, smooth sound from the horn that I like very much. Clarinet and Sax take turns as well, adding their special touches. I like the background parts played by each horn behind each soloist. That makes for a great sounding band. The tempo picks up, switching between a two-beat and Bulgar rhythm. Drummer Christian Horsted does a great job here as well.
Fun Tashlikh is a popular song from the repertoire, and it has been recorded many times in recent years, but Mames Babegenush opens it up a bit more with a strong Bulgar tempo and giving the Horns and Accordion some room to explore the fun world that this song is capable of creating. I like this particular arrangement very much.
Kojak is another great tune, showing how well the band blends all the instruments into a great arrangement. The Drums and Bass really drive the band here, changing the pace a bit with a steady Balkan rhythm. There is an open section for an extended solo from Rande on Trumpet.
Galatas is a Bulgar feature for Clarinetist Goldschmidt and Trumpeter Rande. Heavy driving Bass and Drums make this a fun song to listen to. This is a traditional tune, but they take it to a completely new level.
Opshpiel far di Makhetonim starts with slow Drums, then the Clarinet enters with the solo melody. Goldschmidt is in top form here, delivering a soulful and gritty sound that shows his considerable talent. Sax takes over the melody with Trumpet accompaniment. Then a fast Bulgar starts with a song I know as Bukovina Chusid’l. This is another favorite of mine, and again I like the Bass and Drums here a lot.
Zol Zay Gelebt/Bulgar ala Naftule starts with a fast Freylekhs in a Chicago style. There is room for an open Clarinet solo before moving on to the next tune that I know as Purim Nigun. It is a good, fast Bulgar with a nice arrangement.
Fufzehn Yahr von der Heim Awek starts with a lovely Trumpet Doina which leads into the main theme. This is a beautiful song that shows the depth and sensitivity of the band. Lukas Rande shows some nice Sax work as well, before Goldschmidt takes over on Clarinet. The horn accompaniments are very nice here. The song changes character to a Terkish style, then changes to a Russian March to end the piece. The contrasting styles make this one another favorite track.
Nigun is an unaccompanied Accordion solo from Nicolai Kornerup and it adds a nice touch to the album. Many times the Accordion does not get a moment to shine, but this gentle tune is a nice way to show us the softer side of the instrument and also eases us back to our own world as we say goodbye to Mames Babegenush.
The audio quality is excellent, with an extended low end that gives punch to the Bass and snap to the Kick Drum. The Drums and Cymbals are some of the best I’ve heard. The Accordion is blended nicely, and the Horns sound very clear. I did notice some room ambience on the Clarinet and Sax during the solo moments, but it doesn’t detract from the performance in any way. The mix sounded wonderful on my home theater and only lost a bit on the bottom end when listening on earbuds.
I had a pre-release copy of the album, so I did not have the full CD package. I did see the album artwork, though, and there appear to be album credits along with band photos and some pretty outrageous graphics. I’ll update this after I receive a production copy.
Mames Babgenush have hit upon a winning combination of artistry and originality while simultaneously being faithful to the tradition and pushing the genre forward. Klezmer may have killed the radio star, but Mames Babegenush has brought us a breath of fresh air. Well done, guys.
Klezmer Killed The Radio Star
Emil Goldschmidt > Clarinet
Bo Rande > Trumpet
Lukas Rande > Saxophone
Nicolai Kornerup > Accordeon
Andreas Møllerhøj > Bass
Christian Hørsted > Drums
1 Noch der Havdoleh
2 Teplikher Sher
3 Bessarabian Hora
6 In a Rumeynisher Shenk
7 Fun Tashlikh
10 Opshpiel for di Makhetonim
11 Zol Zayn Gelebt
12 Bulgar ala Naftule
13 Fufzehn Yahr fon der Heim awek
Mames Babegenush MySpace