Thursday, April 07, 2005

Mad Stylz Of Clarinetz

Nod there to the mighty Cutz And Stylz on Atlantic Avenue. Allthough the relevance is hard to discern, since we were not really planning an exploration of African hair salons.

No, we want to talk about a small step forward in our campaign against bafflement by Klezmer music. We were minding our own business, leaving a few intimidating calls with state transportation commissioners, when Cutesome dropped a culture bomb on us. "Come to a klezmer-hop/sheep/book-reading jam downtown," they commanded. We're there, we replied, and so we were, despite the best efforts of the crazy downtown roadbuilders, and the probably necessary security measures of the Museum Of Jewish Heritage. As we intimated in passing a while back, and as Gothamist laboured more recently (we fell back on the wagon), attacks on Jews are very pre-9/11.

The event was a reading by Sam Apple from his new book Schlepping Through The Alps, where Sam explores Austria's post-war experience of anti-Semitism through his travels with Hans, a half-Jewish shepherd, Communist and singer of Yiddish folk songs.

Sam's a sparse, humble, acute observer, neatly offsetting his grandmother Bashi's experience adapting to the Goy-drenched Houston of the 80s with the prejudice of post-war Austria. Sam only read about six segments, and the fictionalised bits were not that compelling, but he's smart and funny, particularly about lacking the essentials for a good sheep-yomp. He also notes that Austria went much less far in punishing its Nazis than Germany, in part to ensure the stability of the post-war carve up between Socialists and Christian Democrats. The reason for this was, in part, because of people like Hans, as well as the fact that Russia briefly occupied the country, and the uneasy compromise between the Allies did not encourage introspection.

(As an aside, and we hope that the author would not mind us briefly appropriating his observations, it should be noted that letting murderers walk free is often called the price of keeping out the Communists. The Pope, Pinochet, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan all believed it. It produces at best crappy justice.)

But Hans was very much the star, if only because he had a bit more of a backstory, and a slightly shy, very endearing, style of delivery. He also had a pretty fine backing band, trumpet, clarinetist and accordion/beats. We have a very ambivalent history with Klezmer, and still remember being hauled up by a Klezmer band that performed at school, and being forced to dance. We still remember skipping in a unco-ordinated fashion round the assembly hall, in front of a few hundred of our peers, and our ears burn with shame. We only managed to restore our faith in this artform thanks to the tender, if hardly orthodox, ministrations of jam-Klezmer titans Kugelplex in San Francisco.

Hans and co played a few songs, ranging from Romanian laments to jauntier clarinet-fuelled wig-outs, and even a few Klezmer-hop joints, courtesy of DJ So Called the aforementioned accordionist/beatmeister. The first was a tad ropey, a few lumpen house beats underneath a perfectly frisky performance by the three horns. It reminded us of the turbo folk so beloved of the serbs, although our ears are not a world music paradise, we'll confess. The second was much more fun, if only because it used some amazing, and very deftly-deployed samples, including pianos, which we fall for every time.

On the way out, one of the old ladies took aside and wanted us to know that Klezmer is Jewish soul music, a label we were ready to reject, if only because the dates of the two emerging as sounds were so far apart. But I guess gospel is too loaded with religious imagery, which, as far as our high-school German could tease out of the yiddish songs, was not the case with the Klezmer we heard. We could tease something out of that observation about the roots of the Jewish experience of anti-Semitism, but we'll do it badly, so we'll just stop here.

Final note to the princelings we spooked yesterday, as well as Marc Forne Molne of Andorra, and the Sultan of Brunei. We have found that this song (via Stereogum) helps. We can't get the stupid beastly thing out of our head.


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