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Bessarabian Hop by Michael Winograd

For my money, the re-emergence of klezmer during the late 1990s has been one of the most rewarding musical developments of the past quarter century. Musicians from all parts of the globe and every conceivable background - jazz, classical, and rock - are still exploring every nook and cranny of traditional Yiddish music, and imaginatively fusing it with contemporary sounds. The results, extensively documented on specialty labels as well as adventurous independent labels such as Tzadik, Knitting Factory, Winter & Winter, and Xenophile, are nothing short of breathtaking. Several such recordings regularly pop up on many a critic's year-end "Best Of..." lists. Tribute recordings and reissues drew long-deserved attention to the previous generation of klezmer artists such as Mickey Katz, Giora Feidman, and Dave Tarras. Finally, a new wave of younger traditional klezmer artists has started to emerge - clarinetist Michael Winograd sits right at the top of the heap in this regard.

Winograd's debut recording as a leader - "Bessarabian Hop" - is pure, unadulterated klezmer music, played on traditional instruments, the way our grandfathers would have heard it. Yet, Winograd is not on a total nostalgia kick, and he refers to early 21st Century popular culture in both his original compositions and in his choice of cover tunes. As far as clarinet technique is concerned, Winograd is a force to be reckoned with. His playing is replete with the wide vibrato, vocal-like inflections, and heavy ornamentation that you'd expect from a klezmer clarinetist. Without stepping too far out from the confines of traditional Yiddish music, Winograd makes his understanding of, and aptitude for, jazz, classical, and pop music abundantly clear.

"Bessarabian Hop" is a well-balanced blend of near-frenetic Yiddish party music and slower, melancholy pieces that stop just short of being musical lamentations. On the upbeat side, 'Sher 199', 'Freylekh for Gwen Stefani', and 'Svatben Jok', are quintessential klezmer dance pieces - the sort of thing you'd expect to hear at a really huge, really happening wedding. On these, Winograd leads a formidable front line consisting of accordionist Patrick Farrell, mandolinist Joey Weisenberg, and trombonist Daniel Blacksberg through various permutations of the melodies - playing in dizzying counterpoint or harmonizing the rapid-fire lines in unison. The band really hits its party-hearty stride on 'Patriot Bulgars' - a rousing, jazzy march that borrows from New Orleans marching band traditions. 'Nayer Khusid Tanz' is another celebratory piece, but adds a soupçon of wistful sadness. 'Zhok in D Minor' is slower, but has a simmering sensuality to it that - again - would make it a perfect wedding tune.

The slower, more reflective pieces - such as 'Morning Song' - showcase Winograd's considerable talents as a clarinetist and as an interpreter of traditional Yiddish themes. 'Arrivals / Departures' features Winograd playing in the clarinet's deepest, darkest tonal regions along with Pete Rushefsky's tsimbl - a traditional instrument also known as a cimbalom or hammered dulcimer.

The only quibble I have with "Bessarabian Hop" is its length. At about 38 minutes, it really only gives you a tantalizing taste of Winograd's music. The hidden 11th track at the end of the CD - a jaw-dropping klezmer version of Gnarls Barkley's 'Crazy' - left me wanting even more. Bravo!

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Michael Winograd
  • CD Title: Bessarabian Hop
  • Genre: World Music
  • Year Released: 2008
  • Record Label: Midwood Sounds
  • Tracks: The Beginning; Zhok in G Minor; Sher 199; Freylekh for Gwen Stefani; Morning Song; Svatben Jok; Arrivals / Departures; Patriot Bulgars; Zhok in D Minor; Nayer Khusid Tanz; Crazy
  • Musicians: Michael Winograd – clarinet; Joey Weisenberg – mandolin; Patrick Farrell – accordion; Pete Rushefsky – tsimbl; Daniel Blacksburg – trombone; Nick Cudahy – bass; Richie Barshay - percussion
  • Rating: Four Stars
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