Naftule's Dream's avant-klezmer

Naftule’s Dream (Club Helsinki, April 27, 2003)

by Seth Rogovoy

(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., April 28, 2003) – In a fractured world, in fractured times, music needs to reflect and respond to those fractures. This can be accomplished in myriad ways, a problem solved through style or form, or directly addressed through content.

It can also be internalized and addressed through a musician’s or composer’s innermost resources – through unconscious creativity – and in that sense it borders on the work of the spiritual. And that approach seemed to be the one favored by the sextet Naftule’s Dream in its 90-minute program at Club Helsinki on Sunday night.

Using the basic tools of jazz and the avant-garde, the members of Naftule’s Dream played with equal amounts of passion and precision, fireworks and finesse. While their strategies changed from song to song, a unified grammar and vocabulary slowly became apparent, so that halfway through the group’s set numbers like “Prayer for No One” and “Job” were eloquent portraits that told vivid stories or captured stark emotional states of crisis.

“Search for the Golden Dreydl,” by accordionist Michael McLaughlin, began with a hypercharged ska beat laid down by drummer Eric Rosenthal and a cartoonish melody with circus overtones, before shifting midway through into collective group improvisation. Untethered from the rhythm, the players still acknowledged the basic themes that were laid out at the beginning of the number.

“Shasha,” by clarinetist Glenn Dickson, opened with a plaintive doina on tuba by Jim Gray, with electric guitarist Brandon Seabrook providing the harmonic bed traditionally laid down by the tsimblist. The second movement mixed a Hasidic-style melody with a Kurt Weill-type tango, danced in counterpoint between Gray and Dickson, with support by cornetist Gary Bohan.

Dickson’s “Job” was powered by a funky, bluesy tuba riff by Gray, over which Dickson blew ascending and descending arpeggios on clarinet, echoed by Bohan, that grew to a frenzy as the title character was thrown overboard and caught in the mouth of the big fish.

The group showcased its sense of humor on a reconstruction of Jerry Bock’s “To Life” from “Fiddler on the Roof,” rendered as hardcore rock, featuring hip-hop and industrial electronic effects from Seabrook, who was a wizard throughout the night on his instrument. “Yid in Seattle” also boasted a quotient of chuckles, finding common ground between the Ashkenazic modes and the signature chord changes favored by Kurt Cobain’s grunge-rock group, Nirvana.

“A.B. Curley the War Hero,” a new piece inspired by the Yiddish poet Moshe Leyb Halpern, might have been the most poignant, its stirring, martial introduction giving way to the free-jazz chaos of the battlefield – perhaps a wry commentary on recent world events.

[This review originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on April 29, 2003. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2003. All rights reserved.]

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