Off in Yonder Klezmer Mountains
It may be stretching a humorous point to call the band behind original Klezmatics member Margot Leverett “boys,” whether or not they are from the Klezmer Mountains. Nevertheless, the Klezmer Mountain Boys of the band were at least a decade younger than most of the audience members who’d snapped up the tickets so early that the first show of the Jewish Museum SummerNights Concert Series on July 1 had been sold out for three weeks.
Despite the youth obsession of popular culture, having a more, shall we say, experienced gathering was no hardship. In the large and appreciative crowd, no one was tapping at iPhones or Blackberries, no one was rushing off early to catch the next show in Brooklyn, and the music itself was amplified to enjoyable — rather than deafening — levels.
Like the Romany, Jews have incorporated the musical cultures that surrounded them as they moved from place to place over millennia. The combination of klezmer and bluegrass — two once presumably strange bedfellows — is now a commonplace of hybrid music culture. Starting the show with a piece combining tunes by Grammy Award-winning bluegrass fiddler Vassar Clemens and klezmer genius Dave Tarras seemed perfectly normal, and the following medley of Sher and square dances likewise.
The joy of bluegrass is when, under close control, notes trip over each other, faster than the mind can consciously process. Klezmer, on the other hand, gets its soul from the wailing clarinet going up and down the scales. Barry Mitterhoff (also from Hot Tuna) on mandolin and bandleader Leverett excelled in both these roles. Although the band lacked neatness around the edges on slow numbers, its core of klezmer bluegrass had everyone clapping and singing along.
Ten songs. One hour. A happy crowd. All in keeping with both traditions. It lacked dancing but, at the pace that people filed out, that was probably the best plan.