From the December, 2016 issue
Klezmephonic, Ann Arbor's premier klezmer band, will play during KindleFest at Kerrytown December 2. The music that for centuries was the soundtrack of the celebrations of Eastern European Jews will resound at an American version of a traditional German pre-Christmas festival, held in the Irish-named shopping district of our Midwestern city. Perfect, right? Completely fitting, in fact, because European klezmer music grew out of and encompassed a great variety of regional liturgical, folk, and ethnic styles of music. Further, what we now recognize as klezmer is what resulted when music that Eastern European immigrants brought to the U.S. in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries interbred with American ragtime, pop, Broadway, and jazz.
Because klezmer music embodies such diverse styles, it demands great breadth and depth of training and experience. In that respect, the founding members of Klezmephonic--violinist Henrik Karapetyan, clarinetist and accordionist Will Cicola, and bassist Dave Sharp--are prototypical klezmer musicians. Between them they have many years of familiarity with classical, gypsy, folk, jazz, and many of the other musical threads that merge into klezmer. They also have the flash and virtuosity that is the hallmark of any really good klezmer band.
Karapetyan produces a gorgeous classical tone but is also at home with all the ear-popping, jaw-dropping tricks and techniques of Gypsy masters; his violin sings the haunting, melancholy melodies of the doinas (folk songs of the Romanian peasants) and races thrillingly through rapid-fire Bulgar dances. On the traditional Yiddish tune "Tumbalalaika" his tremolo pizzicato effectively transforms his violin into a Russian balalaika. Clarinetist Cicola combines equally impeccable mastery of his instrument and a similar comfort with the unique ornamentations that distinguish the klezmer sound--trills, note bends, and krekhts (which make the clarinet sound like it's laughing). The two use the similar yet distinct sonorities of their instruments to blend seamlessly whether they play in unison or in harmony, or when they swirl around each other's notes like improvising Dixieland players. Bassist Sharp, with his
strong jazz and world music credentials, provides the harmonic underpinning and makes the rhythms swing and sway with a driving yet non-metronomic flexibility so essential to this music.
Klezmephonic is more than adept on renditions of traditional Yiddish melodies and on the tunes of early American klezmer masters Dave Tarras and Naftule Brandwein. But they also reach into the repertoire of swing with pieces like "Utt Da Zay," originally recorded by Cab Calloway, and works by contemporary klezmer composers, such as Adrianne Greenbaum's beautiful waltz, "Dobriden."
Carolyn Koebel on hand percussion and Drew Howard on guitar join the core trio at KindleFest. Klezmephonic is also at the Old Town December 28.
[Originally published in December, 2016.]
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