Margot Leverett & The Klezmer Mountain Boys
Traditional Crossroads CD 4318
Klezmer and Bluegrass have more in common than you might think. It’s not just the melodic collision between the new world and old Europe, the jumpin fiddle on centre stage, or the emotional balance between swingin party music and tales of melancholy, but were it not for a few Jewish bluegrass fanatics in the 70s then the Klezmer revival as we know it might never have taken place. It is no coincidence that the man credited with spearheading that revival, Hank Sapoznik, plays banjo in his band Kapelye, and the great klezmer clarinettist Andy Statman famously picks a mean bluegrass mandolin. So the historical and incidental links are clear enough, but whether this joining the dots exercise makes for a coherent, engaging listening experience is another matter.
Margot Leverett is a clarinettist with a fine klezmer pedigree and has hand-picked world class collaborators for this outing: bluegrass names Kenny Kosek and Barry Mitterhoff on fiddle and mandolin, and from the klez kamp, Frank London and his Klezmer Brass Allstars, Brave Old World star Michael Alpert, and Zalman Mlotek of New York’s Folksbiene Yiddish theatre. An impressive guest list that sounds great, but the end result is not the original roots hoedown promised in the press release: Leverett puts together part-klez part-bluegrass medleys that are all well and good but feel ultimately like a bit of a cop-out. What is it that makes a tune feel klezmer, bluegrass or for that matter anything else? One is the way the chords go - but for these two styles the rhythm section sound is pretty much the same, storming fiddle/mandolin/guitar/bass doing the ‘oompah’ til they drop. So that leaves the phrasing and instrumental style of the leader: Leverett does half the job expertly, whooping and squealing it up in the klezmer sections like Nifty Brandwein himself, but when the time comes to go Appalachian she’s kinda still doing the Carpathian.
All in all feels to me like a klezmer record with some fab, extra rootsy fiddle playing and a bit of unusual repertoire. A perfectly good klezmer record at that - just steer clear of the publicity so you won’t get the wrong end of the shtick.