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Sample Track 1:
"Sing for Your Lives" from Sing for Your Lives
Sample Track 2:
"King of Gypsies" from Sing for Your Lives
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Album Review

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The Jewish Voice , Album Review >>

“Sing For Your Lives”

“Life is a carnival,” The Band once sang. Vagabond Opera IS a carnival. Drawing on European cabaret, klezmer, busking, Cirque de Soleil and other forms of street performance, Vagabond Opera is an edgy, contemporary troupe in the great minstrel tradition. They dress the part. They sound like a wild proto-Gypsy band. And, there’s real interaction with the audience in their live performances. One band member plays the musical saw. Other instruments include accordion, clarinet, cello, guitarron and percussion. And, just as the band’s name implies, two of the band’s vocalists have opera skills – serious opera skills.

The band’s latest CD, “Sing For Your Lives,” is essentially a recreation of their stage show – although their live shows vary wildly depending on how the audience is reacting. Bandleader Eric Stern calls the CD “an infusion of biodiversity.” In short, this isn’t a neo-cabaret act, trying to recreate “Die Dreigroschenoper.”

The repertoire includes klezmer (“Tough Mazel”), opera (“Coimbra”), Balkan (“King of the Gypsies”), wild waltz (“Spirit Dances Everymore”), cabaret (“Beard and Moustache”), Oriental swing (“Hanumonsoon”), and music hall/light opera (“Sing For Your Lives”). Vagabond Opera is entertainers in every good sense of the word. They care that their audience is moved. No invisible barrier between fans and this band. I can’t help but love this band!

 Veretski Pass
“The Klezmer Shul”
(Golden Horn)

Play for pray. Imagine a shul for Jewish musicians. Instead of davening the liturgy, the participants played their instruments. That’s the concept behind the new Veretski Pass concept CD, “The Klezmer Shul.” Through the creation of a four-movement suite (a metaphor for four parts of the Shabbat service or four parts of a symphony) with 23 discrete segments, the band re-imagines an emotional experience comparable to attending a religious service – a service without words.

Veretski Pass bass cellist, Stuart Brotman, explained the impetus for the project came out of a lecture by scholar Dr. Walter Zev Feldman on the shuls associated with the Jewish trade guilds of Ashkenazic Eastern Europe. There were tailors’ shuls, shoemakers’ shuls – and klezmer shuls. Did the klezmorim pray or play in their shuls? They are known to have sometimes jammed in shul social halls. Brotman simply took the idea and ran with it with the help of a grant from The Creative Work Fund.

Unlike the band’s earlier “traditional” East European albums, the music here is original, composed by members of the band, drawing on religious and folk themes. I love the band’s sound: violin (Cookie Segelstein) and accordion (Joshua Horowitz, who also plays piano on several tracks) and bass (Brotman). And I love many of the compositions, particularly in the third movement, “Remembrance.” 

I have trouble with the concept of a worship service without a liturgy.

In the Jewish traditional world, where music is regarded as one of the most powerful forms of human expression, music is understood as PART of prayer, celebration and teaching – rather than an end in and of itself. Music can connect one with the divine. Music also can pull one towards The Other Side. The Lubavitchers make this distinction: Whether a specific piece of music pulls you one way or the other depends not so much on the sounds themselves, but on the contexts that make them holy or profane. As one who finds meaning through prayer and liturgy, imagining “The Klezmer Shul” as a religious service doesn’t work for me.

 Does it make a difference when I’m listening to the CD? Not at all. Does it make a difference when Veretski Pass performs “The Klezmer Shul” in a synagogue and asks the audience afterwards, “Which parts of the work struck you as religious”?  Yes, I think it does. Would I run to see the band perform this live? Most definitely, yes. Would I like to see it performed in a shul? I have numerous ambivalent feelings about that. Do I recommend this CD? Highly! 10/06/11 >> go there
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