Black Sea Station,
Transylvania Avenue
(Rounder, 2011)

I don't listen to a lot of klezmer music. Then I'll hear an album like Transylvania Avenue by the Black Sea Station, and I ask myself why I don't listen more often.

The music is lively, exciting, steeped in an Eastern European sound all the while rooted in North America. (The band is based in Winnipeg, Canada.) In fact, a Canadian musician you may have heard of -- Geddy Lee, known to a handful of people as the lead singer of Rush -- contributes some electric bass and vocals just for the heck of it, and Michael Chabon -- a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist -- suggested the album title. So, the band apparently has some pretty cool fans.

It's mostly an instrumental album, which is fine by me where klezmer is concerned. Let the instruments soar, and they do -- put the album on repeat, as I often have in the last few weeks since I fished it out of a box of unreviewed CDs, and you'll be swept away by these frolicsome melodies!

The core group -- originally called the North End Klezmer Project, and including three members of acclaimed Canadian klezmer band FINJAN -- is Daniel Koulack on acoustic bass and guitar, Ben Mink on guitar, violin, mandolin and mandocello, Nicolai Prisacar on accordion, Myron Schultz on clarinet, and Victor Schultz on violin. Besides Geddy Lee, guests are David Eaman (banjo), Slam Renshaw (drums) and Greg Lowe (vocals). Although Lee and Lowe each provide vocals (on just one track each) don't think they change the instrumental tone of the album; until I read that in the liner notes, I didn't realize there were vocals at all. (Upon further listening, I can see they're there more to set mood than to take center stage.)

Although there are notes of jazz in the arrangements, you are mostly swept away by a modern tribute to a dazzling form of itinerant street music that, let's face it, deserves to be pulled off the shelf and listened to sometimes. The Black Sea Station is a great place to start.

music review by
Tom Knapp

30 April 2016

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