The sound of a Jamaican shtetl
by Seth Rogovoy

(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., July 10, 2003) -- Innovative musicians are combining klezmer with all styles of music these days. There is klezmer-punk, shtetl-metal, speed klezmer, avant-klezmer and a klezmer-bluegrass fusion. Combining Eastern European Jewish dance music with Jamaican rhythms has also worked for several groups, and that’s the tack taken by the aptly named Klezska, which comes to Club Helsinki (413-528-3394) in Great Barrington on Sunday at 8.

Founded by drummer Glenn Tamir, the group draws on the wide-ranging backgrounds of its international cast of musicians. Clarinetist Alex Kontorovich was born in Russia and grew up in New Jersey, where he played in various jazz bands and orchestras. Bassist Wayne Batchelor began his career as a jazz bassist at London’s Guildhall School of Music. Trumpeter Meg Montgomery’s first album combined African, Caribbean and funk elements, and keyboardist Nick Balaban is a Berklee College graduate who has toured Europe and Japan with reggae superstars Culture. Saxophonist Cedrick Brooks brings impeccable credentials to the outfit as a member of the Skatalites, and Skidmore College-graduate Tamir was a founding member of the Capital District reggae band Motherless and the Merry Knights.

Jamming around

Mostly known as a hard-rocking party band, the Iguanas show a different side of themselves on their latest album, “Plastic Silver 9 Volt Heart” (Yep Roc). The songs on the new CD -- mid-tempo rockers and more lyrical ballads -- take time to luxuriate in their textures. “Goodbye Again” recalls the more soulful side of the Band, and the group stretches almost into jam-band territory on the six-and-a-half-minute “The First Kiss Is Free.” They play an easygoing cha-cha on a boozy “Liquor Dance,” and adhere to a smooth bossa nova groove on “Abadonado,” one of several Spanish language songs on the album. If the Iguanas are indeed the New Orleans answer to Los Lobos, then this is their “Kiko,” all dark, moody and noirish. The group takes a break from its opening slot on the Dave Matthews Band summer tour to play an encore gig at Club Helsinki on Saturday night at 9.

Speaking of jam-bands, the four day Gathering of the Vibes festival kicks off today and runs through Sunday. The eighth annual festival, at Indian Lookout Country Club in Mariaville, N.Y., just outside of Albany, features an all-star lineup of neo-hippie, blues and funk talent, including the Allman Brothers Band, James Brown, Gov't Mule, blues singer Susan Tedeschi, the Derek Trucks Band, Rusted Root, the David Grisman Quintet, Dickey Betts & Great Southern, Jorma Kaukonen, the Holmes Brothers, Particle, Michael Franti and Spearhead, Addison Groove Project, Max Creek, Nerissa and Katryna Nields, Dan Bern and Keller Williams. Woodstock original Wavy Gravy will act as master of ceremonies for the weekend. For more information, call 866-837-7274 or visit

John Pizzarelli does James Taylor

On his recent, two-CD trio album, “Live at Birdland” (Telarc Jazz), singer-guitarist John Pizzarelli makes the case for adding James Taylor to the pantheon of songwriters of the so-called Great American Songbook by covering two of Taylor’s songs, “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight” and “Mean Old Man.” Taylor sang the latter number in his concert at Tanglewood a few weeks back, and Pizzarelli plays on the version of the song that appears on Taylor’s “October Road” album.

Perhaps Pizzarelli will devote part of his “All That Jazz” performance with conductor Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops at Tanglewood on Tuesday, July 15, at 8:30, to Taylor’s songs among those by other songwriters he is known for showcasing – people like the Gershwins, Rodgers and Hart, Jerome Kern and Harold Arlen. Perhaps also a certain vocalist and songwriter who lives nearby – and whose concert schedule shows him available on that night and presumably in the area (Taylor performs on Wednesday at Meadows Music Theatre in Hartford) – might drop in to lend Pizzarelli a hand on a couple of his songs.

From North Adams to Nashville

For the last few years, Lita Williams of North Adams has been singing at local country fairs and at venues like the Bounti-Fare and Gringo’s, where she works as a waitress.
But this Saturday, the 19-year-old Drury High graduate is going to sing for a larger audience than usual – probably about 35,000 -- when she performs at WGNA’s 10th annual Countryfest at the Saratoga (N.Y.) Harness Track alongside such major stars as Charlie Daniels, Lonestar and Sara Evans.

Williams got the gig as the winner of the country radio station’s annual amateur talent contest, fending off three rounds of competitors and singing songs by Martina McBride, LeAnn Rimes and the Dixie Chicks to take first place.

The Hawaii native picked up a love of country music when her family spent three years in Dallas before moving back to her stepfather’s native North Adams. She names Jody Messina as her greatest musical influence, and also likes Faith Hill, Tim McGraw, Shania Twain and Patsy Cline.

Amazingly enough, the thought of singing before 35,000 people doesn’t rankle Williams.
“I don’t get nervous, I soak it up,” she said. “I live on that kind of stuff. It just gets me pumped. The more the merrier.”

Williams is saving up her tips for the big move to Nashville in December.

[This column originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on July 10, 2003. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2003. All rights reserved.]

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