Monday, October 20, 2008

Europe 2008 - A Klezmer Odyssey

In August of 2008 I made my second trip to Western Europe. I contacted my friends and colleagues from the 2007 trip (Europe 2007 - A Klezmer Odyssey) and built a five-week tour based on invitations to perform and visit.

My trip started in Barcelona, a truly beautiful and fascinating city. I did not play much Klezmer during the 4 days I spent there but I did have a chance to sightsee and also have some great jams with the talented Amanda Jayne (accordion, vocals, bandleader). Through Amanda I also met and played music with numerous musicians based in Barcelona. In my final hours in the city I visited Whatabout Music Studio where I was asked to be play trombone and melodica on a recording session with engineer/producer Dave Bianchi.

I then took a commuter plane to Paris. On the first day I rehearsed with the band Klezmer Kaos (Heida Bjorg, clarinet; Charles Rappaport, fiddle & mandolin; Pierre Polveche, accordion, Sylvain Plommett, bass; Laurent Lacoult, drums & percussion). Then on the next day we performed at Club L'Etage in Paris, a hip club with a great atmosphere.

Then it was off to Italy to perform with Israeli/Italian clarinetist Amit Arieli. We performed a concert in Montreale Valcellina (about one hour north of Venice) along with Dayana Gnarra (vocals), Giovanni Cifariello (guitar), Rocco Zecca (percussion). The venue was a beautiful outdoor courtyard. Unfortunately, the airline forgot to put my trombone on the plane from Paris to Venice, so we had to rent a trombone on the day of the concert! But thankfully it all worked out just fine.

I then spent a couple of days exploring Venice. I learned that it has a Jewish Quarter that dates back to 1516 (it was originally a ghetto).

Amit Arieli offered me a gig being a part of a Italian film. Director Gianmarco D'Agostino had received a commission to make a documentary about the regions of Mugella, Rufina and Val di Sieva, which are all located about 30-60 minutes north of Florence. The premise was that we (Amit Arieli, clarinet; myself, trombone; Alberto Becucci, accordion) were a Klezmer trio (called "Keshet Klezmer") on tour through these regions. Gianmarco arranged three concerts for us and brought along a 15-person movie crew. He also hired an actress named Agnese Verdelli who would be our 'road manager'. In addition to the three concerts, all of the musicians also did some acting. The locations of the three concerts were Castagno d'Andrea, Borgo San Lorenzo (Villa Pecori Giraldi), and Rufina (Villa Poggio Reale)

Here is the movie trailer:

While we were setting up for a day of filming at one of the concert locations, one of the sound engineers received a call from someone who was looking for a trombonist for a 6-month gig with an Italian traveling theatre company. For a few days I was considering accepting the gig, but eventually I passed on the opportunity simply because I had too many obligations at home. But I took this as a very positive sign that I was traveling in the right circles!

I then visited my friend Heiko Lehmann in Berlin. Heiko performs or has performed with Sukke, Budovitz, Michael Wex, and many other bands. At the time of my visit Heiko had been asked by a record company to compile a 12-CD set of the history of Klezmer in Germany and to write the liner notes (in English and German). So during my time with him he literally had piles of CDs that he was listening to in order to make his selections.

While staying in Berlin I got a call from accordionist Franka Lampe who invited me to a party/Klezmer jam session at Cafe Oberwasser in Berlin. For the past 13 years there has been a monthly Klezmer jam session at this great restaurant. Ursula, the owner, is very friendly and genuinely enjoys the music. The session itself was particularly good -- very open and friendly with a great level of musicianship. At the party/session were Franka Lampe, accordion, Manuel Miethe, soprano saxophone; Achim Rinderle (Sonic Ahmed), clarinet; Levante Patsh, tuba/mandolin, and others.

Then it was off to Bonn, Germany to perform as a special guest with the duo "Nu" (Georg Brinkmann, clarinet; Franka Lampe, accordion). I had been able to rehearse with Franka a few days earlier in Berlin, plus the three of us were able to have a quick rehearsal before the concert. Also on the program was The Global Shtetl Band from Nuremberg (Markus Mueller, vocals & bass; Bartek Stanczyk, accordion; Don Cerebro, drums). The band fuses Yiddish song with Latin and Caribbean grooves. I had met the vocalist/bandleader Markus Mueller at KlezFest London during my 2007 trip. At the concert I was also asked to perform a few pieces with The Global Shtetl Band.

Then it was off to Rome where I had been invited by Fausto Sierakowski to perform at a two-day street festival in Civitavecchia with the Klezmer brass band Erichetta Underground along with many other musical groups, jugglers, acrobats, dancers, etc. The members of the band are:

Carlo Hintermann - Drums
Gabriele Hintermann - Double Bass
Federico Pascucci - Alto Sax
Marco Pascucci - Trombone
Edoardo Petretti - Accordion
Primo Salvati - Baritone Sax
Fausto Sierakowski - Alto Sax

It is worth mentioning that the drummer from the band, Carlo Hintermann, has directed a fascinating documentary about Jewish Venice. The film is titled "Chatzer: Inside Jewish Ghetto".

Then I went back to Berlin for a couple of days, mainly to attend the monthly Klezmer jam session at Cafe Oberwasser. The jam session that I mentioned earlier was a birthday party for the owner. Once again, this was a wonderful session!

I then traveled back to Paris. Marthe DesRosiers had asked me to be the featured artist for her monthly Klezzics concert series at l'Olympic Cafe. I was really happy to be asked to present my own music. I formed a band consisting of myself plus three Parisian musicians: Charles Rappaport (fiddle) and Pierre Polevache (accordion) who both play with Klezmer Kaos; and Samuel Maquin (clarinet) who plays in the duo Les Mentsh. They were all very generous with their time and agreed to rehearse twice before the concert. The concert itself was well attended and turned into a klezmer jam session afterwards.

Oh, yes, I forgot to mention that the night before the Klezzics concert Charles and I attended a concert by The Shtetl Stompers (Eleonore Biezunski, fiddle; Ilan Moss, accordion; Stephen Harrison, contrabass). We were asked to sit in on a few numbers.

Then it was off to Holland (The Netherlands). Concert promoter Ad Peeters had asked me to be the guest artist at a concert at the Speeldos Theater in Baarn, NL along with the two Dutch bands Di Gojim and Di Fidl Kapelye. The name of the yearly festival is Klezmer Festival Baarn. He also asked me to give a masterclass to the teen Klezmer group Spiel, Klezmer Spiel. I was also asked to give a short solo piano performance before the concert. During the concert I performed several pieces with Di Gojim and Di Fidl Kapelye plus I was able to perform a few of my compositions with members from both bands. I also want to mention that Baarn is a beautiful, rural village and happens to be the birthplace of the great artist M.C. Escher.

Here are some video clips and photos from the concert:

After the Baarn concert I traveled to Amsterdam (only about 20 minutes away) and stayed for a few days. During my time in Amsterdam I was able to meet saxophonist Job Chahes from The Amsterdam Klezmer Band and also drummer Roberto Haliffi from Klezmokum. I found Amsterdam to be a beautiful city with a great music scene. I didn't play much Klezmer there, but I did find myself on stage with a Latin Jazz band at the famous jazz club Cafe Alto.

I then went back to Rome for a few days, mainly to sightsee, but I also ended up performing in a piazza (plaza) with the band Erichetta Underground.

Then it was back to Italy, where I continued to work on Gianmarco D'Agostino's film with Amit Arielli, Alberto Becucci and the rest of the crew. This time we filmed at a beautiful 100-acre communal farm called Cooperativa Il Forteto, formed in 1977. They make their own cheese and wine which is sold throughout Europe and the USA. We performed one more concert in Rufina, which was well attended and filmed for the movie. Then later that evening, Alberto (accordion) arranged for the trio to perform at a hip bookstore/cafe/concert space called Le Cafe in Florence. So I had two gigs on my last day in Europe!

I should mention that at various points in the trip I also performed other styles of music with various bands: Jazz with pianist Karsten Kramer in Freiberg, Germany; Latin Jazz with Conjunto Amsterdam at Cafe Alto in Amsterdam, plus a recording session in Barcelona with engineer/producer Dave Bianchi. Plus I was able to hear some great concerts: Drikusman (World Beat band based in Amsterdam), The Hazi Brothers (Heiko Lehmann's indie singer/songwriter band based in Berlin), several wonderful jazz groups at the Cafe Alto in Amsterdam, etc. I also took day trips to southern France (Toulouse, Carcasson, Mt. Serat), Northern Italy (Sienna, Pisa and Venice), rode a bicycle all over Amsterdam and also Berlin, and generally had a grand old time!

I should also mention that almost every musician I met who is involved with Jewish music in Europe told me about the Yiddish Summer Weimar program. Unfortunately, I have a teaching commitment in the USA each year during the month of July which makes it impossible for me to attend Weimar, as well as the Jewish Culture Festival in Krakow. But for those reading this blog who are interested in European Klezmer, both events come highly recommended.

On my return trip home I felt a great sense of satisfaction from my journey. I was able to see many beautiful regions in Europe, hang out with great people, and make music along the way. I also think that is fascinating that it is possible for a person like as myself to literally travel the world by tapping into the "Klezmer Network". I am already looking forward to my 2009 trip!

* As a footnote I would like to add that two of the groups whom I met and performed on the 2008 Europe trip will be in the USA to perform in 2009. Amit Arielli (clarinetist from Italy) will be in New York and Boston during the month of May. Members of the The Global Shtetl Band (Klezmer/Latin fusion band from Nuremberg) have reformed as Yiddish Mambo and will be in New York during the month of March. I have helped to arrange concerts for each band at the National Yiddish Bookcenter (Amherst, MA) and will be playing trombone at both concerts.

Here are the dates at the Yiddish Bookcenter:
March 15 (2pm) - Yiddish Mambo (with special guest Georg Brinkmann from NU)
May 10 (2pm) - Amit Arieli (with Cory Pesaturo, accordion and Grant Smith (from the Klezmer Conservatory Band), drums