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Say Youll Understand by The Klez Dispensers

The Klez Dispensers are a highly entertaining band who play intelligent, exuberant party music that stands at the crossroads between the classic Klezmer sounds of artists such as the Klezmorim, Mickey Katz, and Dave Tarras, the retro-swing of The Squirrel Nut Zippers, and the tongue-in-cheek cocktail jazz pastiche of Pink Martini. This self-released disc, the band's third in their decade-long existence, is as musically astute as it is charming. The CD's thirteen tracks include a clutch of well-known traditional Klezmer pieces, soulfully sung in Yiddish by their wonderful vocalist Susan Watts. Posessing a clear, strong, unaffected voice in the classic jazz tradition of Anita O'Day and June Christy, Watts breathes new life into each of these tunes while paying homage to their origins. My favorite of these is 'Belz, Mayn Shtetele Belz,' a bluesy lament with Watts' sadly yearning vocal framed by Ben Holmes' pitch-perfect trumpet solo. Watts, who sings the rest of the Dispensers' vocal pieces in English, also wields a mean Klezmer trumpet, as evidenced by her solo at the end of 'Joseph, Joseph.'


There are also five new, original pieces on Say You'll Understand, each penned by a different member of the group. As good as the rest of the CD is, the range and musical talent of the Dispensers really shines through on these tracks, some of which would not be out of place on a Tzadik CD. The humorously anachronistic Jazz Age sound of pianist Adrian Banner's 'Ray Charleston' is quirkily offset by post-bop horn stylings and Gregg Mervine's deft drumming. Ben Holmes' 'Millville Freylekh' is a straight-up 2-beat freylekh in the grand Klezmer tradition. Violinist Amy Zakar also contributes a lovely traditional-sounding piece ('Fischer Tanz'). By contrast, Mervine's 'Gregg's Hora' is a re-examination of a traditional Yiddish dance form through the lens of post-Coltrane jazz, with space for an extended alto saxophone solo by the amazing Alex Kontorovich. The fusing of modern and traditional forms also plays out in Kontorovich's furiously-paced 'Sirba.' Full of dynamic peaks and valleys, this piece is a tour de force for Kontorovich's virtuoso post-everything clarinet.


Say You'll Understand covers a lot of stylistic ground, and succeeds in making a coherent musical statement while being thoroughly entertaining from beginning to end. I heartily recommend the Klez Dispensers to anyone interested in Jewish Culture, radical or not.


Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: The Klez Dispensers
  • CD Title: Say Youll Understand
  • Genre: Folk Jazz
  • Year Released: 2008
  • Record Label: self-released
  • Tracks: Papirosn, Ray Charleston, Oy Mame, Gregg’s Hora, Millville Freylekh, Sheyn vi di Levone, Joseph Joseph, Fischer Tanz, Belz Meyn Shtetele Belz, Goldenshteyn Sirbas, Liebes Shmertzn, Sirba, Bay Mir Bistu Sheyn
  • Musicians: Susan Watts (vocals, trumpet), Alex Kontorovich (clarinet, alto sax), Amy Zakar (violin, vocals), Heather Chriscaden Versace (bass, vocals), Audrey Betsy Welber (alto & tenor sax), Ben Holmes (trumpet), Adrian Banner (piano), Gregg Mervine (drums)
  • Rating: Four Stars
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