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The Klezmer Nuthouse
Artist: Sandy Weltman
Label: Wildstone Audio
Tracks / Time:  14 tracks / 62:30

Pop quiz: What do the harmonica, banjo, and Jewish Gypsy music have in common?

Normally, you'd be right if you answered, "Nothing." The rich sounds of the traditional Eastern European Jewish music known as Klezmer are full of instruments such as the cello, violin, bass, dobro, riq, dumbek, and mandolin. Banjos and harmonicas belong a world apart, in the realm of bluegrass. Yet, composer/instrumentalist Sandy Weltman has seamlessly incorporated them into Klezmer music, providing a unique sound that captivates the imagination.

A Jew immersed in jazz and bluegrass from childhood, Weltman found a love for his Jewish roots in Klezmer music only after his conversion to Christianity. Already highly accomplished in the banjo and harmonica (he is able to pull 32 notes out of a diatonic harmonica), it was natural for him to combine them with Klezmer. The result was The Klezmer Nuthouse.

Joined by a handful of world-class musicians, Weltman has crafted a delightful album that is sure to be enjoyed by Jews and non-Jews alike. From traditional Klezmer songs such as "Mazel" to bluegrass-tinged arrangements like "Kishiniever Bulgar (Breakdown)," Nuthouse delivers a warm mix full of celebration, joy, and deep tradition.

Ben Cauldwerse  7/21/2003

For first-time listeners, Klezmer music may sound like polka music with Middle Eastern flavor. Klezmer means instruments used in songmaking, and from about 1400 or so has come to mean the music by a Jewish musician. The usual instruments used are accordion, clarinet, drums, and perhaps a violin. There is a talented group of musicians gathered for this CD. Besides Sandy Weltman on banjo and harmonica, stand outs are Janice Rieman on cello, Michelle De Fabio on violin, Carl Casperson on bass, Carolbeth True on piano, Gary Hunt on guitar, Thayne Bradford on mandolin, and Brian McCary on percussion. What Sandy Weltman and friends have done is to take the Middle Eastern, minor mode of Klezmer music and apply it to Dixieland jazz and bluegrass. The resulting sound is highly listenable, unique, and unusual, hence the title of the CD, The Klezmer Nuthouse.

"Baym Rebins Sude" ("At The Rabbi's Table") is a poignant selection and one of the few with a slower beat. It features a wonderful violin and banjo duet plus an insightful harmonica and keyboard duet. The tongue-in-cheek "Dancing Sheik To Sheik" contains a variety of percussion instruments with excellent harmonica work by Weltman. The title piece, "The Klezmer Nuthouse," has a melody that goes in all directions, conga drums, bass, and rainsticks. What a finger-snapping beat!

"Kaddish" is slower and more mournful, featuring a banjo and cello duet and Beth Tuttle vocals in Hebrew and English. Abe Schwartz's "Varshavers Freylekhs" is a jazz piece with various instruments that specifically highlights piano and bass. Then, it is on to bluegrass with another Schwartz composition, "Kishiniever Bulgar" ("Breakdown"), that has a great ending. "If My People," with Weltman on banjo and Fred Lang vocals, is eloquent with lyrics like "If my people who are called by my name." The CD ends with the rousing "Odessa Bulgar," featuring more excellent harmonica work by Weltman.

There are two selections that did not gel for me. One was "Mazel," in which the instruments did not blend well with a harmonica that was too loud for the group. The other difficulty happened on the medley "Ukrainian Etude," which began with good instrument blend and ended up with loud harmonica.

The Klezmer Nuthouse will introduce you to a new style of music if you haven't heard of it before or continue your interest if you are already a fan. Sandy Weltman and his group have combined traditional Jewish music with jazz flavors to offer a unique blend of musicianship.

Copyright 2003 Marie Asner
Submitted 8/7/03

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