Reviews of Klezperanto

Part of Ashkenaz: A Festival of New Yiddish Culture.

Monday, Sept 2, 2002; Concert Stage, Harbourfront Centre, Toronto

It can be argued that by playing songs titled "Kosher Kabana" and "Diddley Shmiddley," Boston's Klezperanto! strengthen the perception that klezmer is embarrassingly ethnic music played by nerds.

Judge the band's eponymous disc by these elements alone, however, and you'll cheat yourself out of a group whose wild approach to the traditional dance music of the Eastern European Jews is at the vanguard of the klezmer revival. As impressive as the ensemble's musical virtuosity is the fiery energy expended in executing the songs. Clarinetist Ilene Stahl laughs when I tell her I think that Klezperanto! put critically acclaimed garage-rock bands like The Vines and Hives to shame.

"Thank you," she says by phone from her home. "I think the only difference between us and the groups you mentioned is that most us have a formal classical musical education behind us. I really hope you see us perform; it's a pretty high-energy show."

Klezperanto! close the fourth annual Ashkenaz happening at Harbourfront Aug. 30 through Sept. 2. Most of the six members of Klezperanto! were also members of Boston's Klezmer Conservatory Band, founded by pre-eminent klezmer scholar Hankus Netsky 22 years back. And though they loved playing traditional klezmer, it presented them with several limitations that Stahl says they wanted to transcend.

"We learned the music off old 78s, so we were limited by what was available," she explains. "Also, certain instruments didn't record very well back then, so the music we learned from was from clarinet-centred bands, because horns, for example, recorded better than strings. So what we had to learn from was a limited spectrum of types of dances and songs."

Overcoming the restrictions posed by traditional klezmer, Stahl says, was "one in a series of liberations" she's experienced. "I came to klezmer from a classical tradition, and it was very liberating to suddenly be set free from the constraints of classical clarinet playing. But it was incredibly valuable to go through the rigorous boot camp of scales and all of that, because klezmer in its most traditional form is pretty technically demanding for a clarinet player."
While Klezperanto! are deeply rooted in tradition, they aren't afraid to freak their klezmer with elements of zydeco, funk, New Orleans second line, and even the unmistakable melody of cumbia, one of Colombia's national rhythms.
"I came across a compilation of cumbia songs from the '50s and '60s, which was the golden age of that music, and I was smitten," Stahl raves. "It was the most joyful, irrepressible groove music I'd heard, and I really loved it. I hope we'll be adding more cumbia to our repertoire."

Speaking with Stahl, I sense her idea of blending styles and making community music was inspired in part by Dr. Ludwig Zamenhof, the Yiddish-speaking Jew who invented Esperanto. "It was a beautiful, idealistic plan to create this language that would go beyond borders, at least in European countries," she explains. "It was great that there was this language where the Hungarian Jew, the Polish Jew and the Russian Jew could all be together and although they'd speak with different accents, they were sharing this common language. It didn't really take off, but you wouldn't believe it, I get emails from Esperanto enthusiasts saying, 'Is there an Esperanto speaker in your band?' or 'I'll translate your liner notes into Esperanto.' They're a small but devoted bunch of people."

Say what you will about klezmer groups, you gotta love their irreverence.

"Every kind of music suffers from taking itself too seriously," she says. "Klezmer music is most often heard in concert halls, but this is wedding music, it came from creating a joyful atmosphere where people are going to dance. How can you possibly be dour and academic about something that was intended to make a party happen?"

© 1991-2002 eye

The World Online: The website of PRI's daily international news magazine

When Eastern Europe's Jews began flocking to the United States around the turn of the last century, they brought along their music - a hybrid of Romanian, Ukranian, Greek, Turkish, Polish and Gypsy music traditionally played at weddings by wandering Jewish musicians, or Klezmorim. By World War Two, when the American children of that immigrant generation developed more mainstream musical tastes, Klezmer practically disappeared. That changed in the 1970s, when their children began digging through the old sheet music and 78RPM records. Klezmer revival bands sprang up across the country. Couch.

Now the next generation of Klezmer bands is taking Jewish roots music into uncharted territory. One of them is Klezperanto.

Led by clarinet player Ilene Stahl, Klezperanto is in the vanguard of a movement intent on retooling Klezmer music for the 21st century. While their spiritual great-grandparents would be mystified by their use of the electric guitar, the members of Klezperanto say it's "a natural outgrowth of the klezmer tradition, an ever evolving form of lively, accessible dance music." From Brazilian samba to Louisiana Zydeco the band plants Yiddish and Mediterranean melodies in unlikely New World settings. On the last cut of their new album Klezperanto Re-Grooves Klezmer, instead of Americanizing a traditional Klezmer tune, the band Klezmerizes an American classic - Dizzy Gilespie's "A Night in Tunisia. The members of Klezperanto were all trained by Hankus Netsky of the new England Conservatory of Music. Professor Netsky's own Klezmer Conservatory Band pioneered the Klezmer revival in America. Netsky's enthusiasm - not to mention energy - is evident in the work of his students.

Klezperanto leader Ilene Stahl says that in addition to being able to play good danceable wedding music, klezmer musicians in the OLD world "were expected to know all manner of popular music." Klezperanto stays true to its klezmer roots, by taking old world music and giving it a new world edge.

Stephen Snyder 12/14/2000

The Boston Globe

"It's not your zayde's klezmer. Clarinetist Ilene Stahl heads up this whirlwind of a band, which turns klezmer, zydeco, rockabilly and various other ethnic sounds into a dance mix so potent it should carry a warning label."

The Boston Globe, Calendar Choice Nov. 30, 2000


I heard this most cosmopolitan of klezmer outfits recently on NPR and was truly floored. Long a fan of groups like The Klezmatics and Hasidic New Wave, I knew I was hearing something special, someting that could bring this rich tradition to a much wider audience. Klezperanto fuses klez to an almost impossible large canvas on this all instrumental release. They're like your favorite dixieland band, eastern european wedding band AND rockgroup all rolled into one. And Granpa Brandwein is surely smiling from his vantage point in the great beyond. All disciples of The Klezmer Conservatory Band's founder Hankus Netsky, Klezperanto pushes the envelope beyond anything heard thus far, and without throwing tradition to the four winds. Fronted by clarinet virtuoso IleneStahl, who gives the aforementioned Brandwein a run for his money here, this sexted cooks at every bend. Genuinely groundbreaking use of electric guitar is made by Brandon Seabrook, who also provides marvelous banjo and mandolin. At times, his wild interpretations recall the golden age of surf music (and indeed the liner notes name Dick Dale as an influence). Another iconoclastic twist is the prevalence of latin grooves, notably Colombian cumbia, a rhythm as infectious as reggae. Other bits are zydeco influenced. Mark Hamilton's trombone glissandos slink and slide effortlessly from genre to genre, and, when combined with Ms. Stahl's clarinet and Evan Harlan's accordion give the deceptive effect of a full horn section. Mike Bullock's evocative bass and Grant Smith's persuasive drumming round out the sound, which is voluptuous indeed. And they'e Massachusetts based to boot.

Making the case totally foolproof, the disc is on the Naxos World label which, like their superb classical line, is budget priced. I paid less than six bucks for it!

If you're a fan of clarinet satrap Ivo Popasov or the musical hijinx of 3 Mustaphas 3, you're about to be bowled over yet again. Best klezmer disc ever.

Meathook Williams, VMag, Northampton, MA

Top Ten CDs for 2000

For those who have missed the ongoing chorus of excited listeners, Klezperanto is a klezmer/world folk fusion band on par with, say, the Brave Combo, but, frankly, better and more danceable. If your music taste ranges from South America to the Balkans, with a healthy dose of klezmer fueling it all, this is the band for you.The Top 10 or so: Best recordings of 2000Quick! What Boston band, fronted by a famous KCB clarinetist, backed by lots of other current KCB alumni, bandmembers, and friends, has broken through the klezmer language barrier? If you guessed "Klezperanto," whose debut album starts of with some lovely balkanized fun, extends to Argentinian tango, and, a lá Brave Combo goes anywhere in the world a dance is to be had, you're absolutely correct. Is this the year's most accessible, fun, world music album with a klezmer slant? You bet!...

from Ari Davidow's

Not Your Average Klezmer Music

This is a truly unique CD. While it uses some of the instruments traditionally associated with Klezmer music such as clarinet (played by Ilene Stahl) and accordion (Evan Harlan), it ventures into other music styles such as jazz with Mark Hamilton on trombone and rock and funk with Brandon Seabrook playing guitar.

This CD starts off with a traditional Klezmer song entitled "Diddley Shmiddley / Kleine Princessin", in solos which introduce the listener to all the members of the band. In the second tune, "Skotchne", Grant Smith lays down a steady funk beat, while the band provides a Klezmer melody. It works surprisingly well. Track three takes the listener by surprise, played in the jitterbug style used by many big bands in the 40's. The style of this song is best embodied in Brandon Seabrook's banjo playing, which sounds like it could have come off a Squirl Nut Zippers record. They slow things down a bit in their fourth number; a very gritty sounding rendition of the traditional Greek song "I Drink to Forget", which conjures up images of smoky late-night bars and dark city streets. The sixth track has a quite unique sound; a traditional Klezmer melody ("Rozhins Mit Mandlen / Oyfn Pripetshik") played on top of Afro-Cuban rhythms and chord changes. "Lupita", the eighth tune, revisits the funk rhythms played in track two. The band goes back to it's Klezmer roots in their ninth song with a spicy rendition of "Ay Ya Bibi". The listener is introduced to yet another side of the band in their tenth tune, "Acaj Pene Rakije", which sounds surprisingly like the songs on Miles Davis's cd "In a Silent Way". The distorted electric guitar closely mimics the electric piano as played by Herbie Hancock and Josef Zawinul, while the soothing melodies of the clarinet eerily echo the emotions Miles Davis portrays with his trumpet. If that wasn't enough, the trombone's counter harmonies could easily be mistaken for those played by Wayne Shorter on the tenor sax. To prove just how innovative they can be, the band makes a grand exit with Dizzy Gillespie's classic "A Night In Tunisia", a fitting ending to this innovative CD.

This CD isn't just for Klezmer lovers. It is a one of a kind piece of art, which can easily make a home in any record collection.

thatcrazykid Newtown, CT as posted on October 29, 2000


"In September, a close friend of mine somehow convinced me to schlep all the way to Somerville to go to a club and see a band. No mean feat, given my recent track record of avoiding even the Valley's much-lauded-and-beholden-to-a-lone-booking-monopoly night life. So, you think I would caravan all the way out to Somerville? Well, my friend begged me in a most distasteful manner, so schlep I did.

Thankfully, all my bitching about the drive came to naught when I heard Klezperanto, the band in question. Klezperanto appears to be another band riding the current crest of the klezmer revival, but not really. Because they rocked.

Klezmer has always been a tough call for me. While I am fairly open to so-called "world" music, I have a fairly short attention span for much of it. I like reggae and I like polka, two kindred forms you'll find lumped in the same "world" bin in some stores, and both avoided by the teenaged customers, but even with these I won't last a whole concert or CD.
The same goes with klezmer. While I generally will love a klezmer tune, after about three or four songs, I'm kind of yaidle-daidled out. While it helps that the hora is about as jiggy as I get with it on the dance floor, even the user-friendliness of the associated dances wears thin with me. There is a plethora of klezmer bands out there, particularly in our blessed valley, and they are all fighting the good fight of preserving the traditional tunes. Still, I just can't imagine getting down with many of them for an evening on the town.

Enter Klezperanto, which managed to rock at Johnny D's Uptown in Somerville. Perhaps Eclectperanto or Ritalin Shmitalin would have been better names for this band, because they managed to at once excite and soothe my short attention span. The band starts from a base of klezmer, kind of like a pizza starts with tomato sauce: but, oy, the toppings. The disparate elements of klezmer, jazz and rock combine in such a way that I falter at describing their sound. Think of klezmer without the cheese, think of jazz without the blahblahblah esoterica, think of rock without the I'm-too-hip-to-have-fun stance. The unifying theme of this gumbo is the incessant desire to dance that it creates.

At turns loaded with melancholy, moxie, piss and vinegar, the band ran the gamut of styles - rock, gypsy, jazz - enough to keep my ADD-addled pate humming. There's more history here than you standard middle-school-educated rock critic can assimilate. In particular, the combination of surf guitar and a klezmer flourish had me mesmerized, or klezmerized, thanks to the talents of a certain wizard of the strings named Brandon Seabrook. Maybe I've led too sheltered a life, but I've never seen a man play a banjo with a wah-wah pedal before. Cool.

Also holding my attention was accordion player Evan Harlan. Admittedly, I'm an easy sell for the accordion (as certain street musicians know), but what he could squeeze out of that baby! Not being your standard four-guys-and-a-chick hand, they offer nothing in terms of vocals, which aren't missed (though there's a clear desire for some sort of verbal fun in a band which announces songs with titles like "Goodbye to Pork"). The sole chick element in the band is offered by yiddishe jumping bean and clarinet player Ilene Stahl, who apparently was presented with a clarinet in the bassinet, born with it attached, or married to it in some secret occult ritual in the Catskills.

Sadly, the group doesn't have a CD out, so outside of my kvelling you'll just have to wait till the powers that be get a whiff. Or even better, get the band out hear for your wedding or bar mitzvah. Hell, schedule your own briss if you have to, but have a listen."

Punco Godyn, VMag, Northampton, MA Dec 99