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September 16, 2020
 

Bound Together in the Spirit of Cultural Exchange

 

Klezmer-ish (from left: Connie Del Vecchio, Tom Verity, Marcel Becker, Rob Shepley): ‘No boss! All equals. No rules or regulations. It is all led by the music, and by the mutual respect we have for each other’s talent.’

 

DUSTY ROAD

Klezmer-ish

Riverboat Records

 

On Dusty Road, Klezmer-ish, four forward-looking classically trained musicians who met as colleagues in the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, burst free from the orchestra’s rigid hierarchy as they explore the music of immigrants from various cultural backgrounds who left their homelands for a different and better life.

As their name implies, Klezmer-ish cannot simply be pigeonholed as a straight-ahead klezmer act, but rather presents itself as a band with a diverse and forever expanding repertoire. Bound together in the true spirit of intercultural exchange, their music is always on the move, like the traveling peoples it reflects.  As Connie Del Vecchio, the band’s accordionist and violinist, points out, “These peoples took their musical traditions with them and as much as they influenced the music scene wherever they settled, so was their music influenced by the cultures they encountered in their new-found homes. Klezmer music of Jewish immigrants, tangos by Piazzolla (who grew up in Argentina as a son of Italian immigrants) or the gypsy jazz of Stéphane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt–the fantastic collaboration of a classically trained French/Italian violinist with a self-taught gypsy guitarist–are all examples of amazing musical fusions.”

‘I’m Confessin’,’ the jazz standard from 1930, featured on Dusty Road in the gypsy jazz version covered in 1945 by Django Reinhardt leading the Quintette du Hot Club de France, featuring Stéphane Grappelli.

‘Hershel,’ Klezmer-ish, from Dusty Road

Like their music, the band’s approach is flexible and democratic, as guitarist-violinist-vocalist Rob Shepley acknowledges. “We all play equal parts in the quartet,” he notes. “No one is purely accompaniment or the main voice, but we constantly swap roles. Even Marcel [Becker] on the bass very often takes the leading part and plays the melody rather than just sticking to the bass line as you would expect. This certainly helps create our unusual sound world.” This approach very much in evidence on the impressive album opener, “The Klezmer’s Freilach,” in which the band bring in and out of focus each instrumental element in the music. This gives the music a fluidity and constantly changing dynamism all its own, as the album proceeds to take the listener on a wide-ranging journey of musical styles from Klezmer, tango, gypsy jazz and beyond.

‘Volver,’ a tango introduced in 1934, written by Carlos Gardel and Alfredo Le Pera, in Klezmer-ish style from Dusty Road

‘Amud Ha’Esh (Pillar of Fire),’ written by Ehud Manor (lyrics) and Shem Tov Levi (lyrics), as covered by Klezmer-ish on Dusty Road

What makes Klezmer-ish so special is their passion for exploring exciting new areas while retaining the grounded excellence of their rigorous training as classical musicians. Still the band plays with a palpable sense of freedom: they’re not aiming for perfect renditions of the originals or trying to play in an “authentic” style, but rather tailoring these pieces to their own personal taste and giving them their own unique twist. As clarinetist Tom Verity explains, “In Klezmer-ish we draw on different repertoires from around the world for our raw ingredients and mix these with our own individual musical interests and influences, to create something new which strikes a chord with us personally and with our audience.” This approach is clear in the band’s playful take on traditional tune “Hershel,” which makes a nod to influences ranging from Renaissance-inspired viol music to punk and plenty in between.

‘September Sun,’ a gypsy jazz-inspired tune written by Klezmer-ish guitarist-violinist-vocalist Rob Shepley and featured on Dusty Road

Whether it be a tribute to tango’s most famous sons Carlos Gardel and Astor Piazzolla in “Volver” and “Kicho,” letting loose on multi-instrumentalist Shepley’s two self-penned gypsy-jazz inspired compositions  “September Sun” and “Dusty Road,” or the deeply moving Hebrew song by Shem Tov Levi, “Amud Ha’Esh,” this collection of a dozen pieces demonstrates the band’s progressive approach and desire to challenge themselves outside the symphony orchestra’s strict rules. As a band statement asserts: “No boss! All equals. No rules or regulations. It is all led by the music, and by the mutual respect we have for each other’s talent.”