Photo by Pawel Mazur
The Other Europeans’ impressive new live album, “Splendor,” should carry the subtitle “Everything You Wanted To Know About Klezmer and Lautar Music But Were Afraid To Ask.” Would you bet on your ability to differentiate klezmer from so-called “Gypsy” music in a simple drop-the-needle listening test? Before this recording, even those of us who had our horas and doinas down pat might have squirmed if asked to describe, in precise musical terms, the particular characteristics that set these two Eastern European musical traditions apart.
“Splendor,” aside from being a blast to listen to, is also a fascinating educational primer on two distinct cultural strains that made up the ethnically mixed urban music of pre–World War II Bessarabia (today’s Republic of Moldova). In the same way that Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble have explored the ancient musical connections between Western Europe and the Far East, Alan Bern and The Other Europeans have zeroed in on a period during which klezmer and lautar (Roma, or “Gypsy”) musicians played together in mixed ensembles for both Jewish and non-Jewish audiences.