Since their emergence 30 years ago, the Klezmatics have raised the bar for Eastern European Jewish music, made aesthetically, politically and musically compelling recordings, inspired future generations, created a large body of work that is enduring and helped to change the face of contemporary Yiddish culture. Accurately described as a Jewish-American roots band, the Klezmatics have led a popular revival of this ages-old, nearly forgotten art form. They have performed in more than 20 countries and released ten albums to worldwide acclaim. On their Grammy-winning 2006 collection Wonder Wheel, the Klezmatics set a dozen previously unsung Woody Guthrie lyrics to music, widening their stylistic base by largely diverging from klezmer. They have also served as the subject of a feature-length documentary film, The Klezmatics: On Holy Ground.
During their three-decade existence the Klezmatics have collaborated with such brilliant artists as violinist Itzhak Perlman, Pulitzer prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner and Israeli vocal icon Chava Alberstein, plus many other prominent artists working within multiple genres. The Klezmatics’ music is rooted in but is not a strictly traditional variety of the klezmer genre. Rather, it is a comfortable hybrid that appeals equally to those with no previous exposure to the music and those already familiar with it. Although tradition is at the core of what they do, since the beginning the Klezmatics have adapted to the artistic sensibilities of a contemporary world. Indeed, the Klezmatics are very much of the modern world.
Formed in New York in 1986, the Klezmatics quickly built a devoted following that expanded outward once word spread about this exotic new band that was bringing klezmer back from the abyss. For some fans, the group’s appeal went beyond the music itself. Throughout the years a wide range of musical and lyrical ideas have inhabited the Klezmatics’ songs, ranging from contemporary issues of global import facing each of us to matters of intimate love, and from leftist politics to age-old Jewish mysticism.
What do you do next when you’ve already spent the past 30 years transforming an entire genre of music? If you are the Klezmatics you take it even further.
Apikorsim/Heretics, the Klezmatics’ new album on World Village/harmonia mundi, is the sound of the band’s six musicians playing their own brand of klezmer - it’s the true sound of the band that changed the course of Jewish music history, the sound of the only Jewish music group to win a Grammy Award, a band that has consistently electrified audiences around the world.
The overriding goal going into the first new release of the Klezmatics’ fourth decade was simple, says co-founder Frank London: “to make a great recording of Yiddish and klezmer music, as only the Klezmatics can.” The provocative and gleefully line-blurring title track, 'Apikorsim (Heretics)', is the album’s centerpiece. “It’s seriously irreverent,” says original group member, Lorin Sklamberg. “It says, if you’re going to do something that some people might find un-kosher, enjoy it as much as possible. It’s definitely our kind of song.”
“We called the new album Apikorsim/Heretics for many reasons: political, philosophical and philological,” says London. “Apikorsim - heretics, rebels, questioners - are people who do not conform to established attitudes and challenge orthodox opinions. And the Klezmatics are decidedly unorthodox.”
From the beginning of their career the Klezmatics have demonstrated that klezmer is a vital part of the spectrum of world dance music and culture. Approaching their fourth decade together, the Klezmatics continue their redefinition of the music that they have utilized as a voice for social justice, change, the underdogs and oppressed; as the sound of “heretical” behavior, of questioning, of going against accepted beliefs and dissenting from established dogma.
The Klezmatics - Richie Barshay (percussion, vocals), Matt Darriau (alto sax, clarinet, vocals), Lisa Gutkin (violin, vocals), Frank London (trumpet, horn, vocals), Paul Morrissett (bass, tsimbl, vocals) and Lorin Sklamberg (lead vocals, accordion, guitar, piano) are officially celebrating the release of Apikorsim tonight with their return to New York’s famed Town Hall - a venue with its own impressive history of challenging the artistic and political establishment - celebrating their 30-year career and kicking off the group’s 2016-17 tour. Welcome to the party!
“The Klezmatics aren’t just the best band in the klezmer vanguard; on a good night, they can rank among the greatest bands on the planet.”
– Time Out New York