Old World Folk Band,
Crossing New Borders
(independent, 1998)

I didn't even know what "klezmer" was when I first went to hear the Old World Folk Band. But the musicians' enthusiasm alone was enough to send me scurrying to buy one of the band's CDs. The album, Crossing New Borders, begins just as the concert did, with a lone clarinet trilling through a slow tune, sounding somehow mournful and optimistic at the same time. A piano joins in, and in my mind I can see the clarinet player smiling into his reed. Then the rest of the band jumps in for a lively tune called, for no apparent reason, "7:40."

For any fan of klezmer, which sounds to my untutored ear rather like Jewish Dixieland (or, as I like to call it, Fiddler on the Roof as written by Scott Joplin), this is an excellent album. The band clearly enjoys what it's doing; and the musicians' energetic performance, with sweeping instrumentals and enthusiastic vocals, makes it easy for listeners to enjoy it, too.

The spirited band draws it music from its Jewish and Eastern European roots with relish. I suspect they're in great demand for dances.

The band line-up is, as I understand it, fairly fluid. This album puts the talents of 12 musicians to good use. The best of the bunch is recent immigrant Anatoliy Krashunskiy, capering with his clarinet and saxophone through soaring passions, rippling tides and hearty musical chuckles. His spotlight tune, "Anatoliy's Freylekhs," is a standout among excellent tunes. With the kind of expression he milks from his instrument, I won't be surprised to hear that he soon has it talking and singing.

Vocalists Dina Krashunskaya and Susan Leviton are perfectly suited to the task, singing traditional lyrics in English, Yiddish and Russian. Even when the words are incomprehensible (and don't worry, there are translations in the liner notes) the singers seem to get their meaning across. Among the best vocal tracks are the satirical "Yoshke Fort Avek," a moving "Harbstlid" ("Harvest Song"), "Korobushka," "Otchi Tchorniye" ("Dark Eyes") and the raucous tavern song, "Kretchma." Other tunes to keep your ears open for in particular are "Tate Ziser Suite" and "Moldova Hora."

The whole band is very good and quite expressive, using their instruments with distinctive ethinic flair. Additional players are Stan Green, violin; Gary Grobman, flute and piccolo; Jess Dalton Hayden, clarinet; Anna Hope, tenor banjo, hammered dulcimer, piano and harp; Henry Koretzky, guitar and mandolin; Dale Laninga, trombone and baritone horn; Katie Margo, piano; Frederick Richmond, trumpet; and Karen Richmond, bass.

The way in which the Old World Folk Band merges voices and instruments is delightful. Check them out and you won't be disappointed.

[ by Tom Knapp ]