Beyond the Pale,
(Borealis, 2001)

I don't know whether it was intentional on the part of Beyond the Pale, but Routes strikes me as a perfect name for this CD, as the music tells you where the band is going as well as where it has been.

Beyond the Pale is a tight-knit ensemble from Canada made up of Bret Higgins (bass), Anne Lindsay (violin), Sasha Luminsky (accordion), Eric Stein (mandolin, tsimbl) and Martin Van de Ven (clarinets). They are joined on various tracks by Bogdan Djukic (violin), Josh Engel (guitar), Dan Goldman (guitar), Rick Lazar (percussion) and Dave Wall (vocal, piano). The music draws on klezmer roots, but Beyond the Pale takes it to a new level whether the music is traditional or original.

A pair of original tunes kicks off the CD. "Eavesdropping" has an aimless and melancholy melody that is handed off among the various instruments. It develops urgency with repeated chords on the accordion that lead into "Icebreaker," a merry, fast-moving foot-tapping dance tune. In both pieces there is a precise balance among the instruments: not one overshadows the others at any time.

"Agnia" begins with a dark, almost mournful sound that gradually picks up the pace, increasing its rocking tempo, then takes off into a musical melee. "ChasenJah" blends traditional Jewish wedding dance melodies with reggae-like rhythms and jazzy syncopation. "Vander Ich Mir Lustig" is a traditional Yiddish song about a man who rises and falls but manages to pick himself up again. The melody is a Russian sailor's dance with Roumanian instrumental interludes. More Roumanian music follows with "Roumanian Fantasy," a delicate piece that showcases Stein's mandolin and Lindsay's violin.

Next up is a trio of tunes, "Bulcharescu," "Gebenyas" and "Sinbish," original pieces that draw on a variety of ethnic sources of inspiration. "Vodka" is another Yiddish song about a man drowning his sorrows because he lost his true love and his best friend to each other.

According to the liner notes, "Gyration" is a "holdover from the band's early days as a 'new grass' fusion band." The music is gutsy, funky and smooth, and a nifty and surprising change of pace. The CD concludes with "Doina and Honga," a traditional lament played on the tsimbl (hammered dulcimer) that evolves into a spinning lively dance tune.

The most significant element about this CD is how beautifully the band meshes the musical lines. Melodies are handed back and forth in gorgeous arrangements that bring out the best in each performer. It makes Routes a cut above the rest, and Beyond the Pale is ensemble playing at its finest.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]
Rambles: 15 February 2002