Klezmer has enjoyed cachet in the jazz world since clarinetist Don Byron's 1993 album Plays the Music of Mickey Katz. The centuries-old Eastern European form is, after all, incredibly catchy — a fact one might attribute to the up-tempo rhythms and Middle Eastern harmonic scales, which are, apparently, the bedrock of everything funky. Five Bay Area musicians took this idea to heart when forming their own Eastern European ensemble, Zoyres East European Wild Ferment. Set up as a folk band but equally influenced by jazz, Zoryes offers fascinating interpretations of ancient Balkan and klezmer songs, plus some original material that adds weird meters and jazzy horn solos to the old song structures. Zoyres advertises itself as a dance band, partly because of the tautness of its rhythms, and partly because it sounds a lot bigger than it actually is. But the band's real selling point is that its members have real chops.
Zoyres' second album, Biserka! features eleven tracks, including five traditional folk songs, two minute-long improvisations, and five new compositions by saxophonist Mike Perlmutter, Boston-based accordionist Michael McLaughlin, and the band's original clarinetist, Olivier Hamant. Perlmutter's two songs are interesting in that they draw heavily on old traditions. "12 Bonds" is the jazzier of the two; "Papa's Dance" sounds almost indistinguishable from its 16th-century precursors. Hamant's "Rue St. Jean," takes more liberties with the form, particularly in the romantic, dissonant harmonies that comprise its middle section.
But the real payoff comes with McLaughlins' dirge-like "Afterwards," which pairs a convulsive drum rhythm with a horn line that sounds almost like a chorale. It's simply wonderful. (Zoyres)
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