The Grammy award-winning Klezmatics, who specialize in fusion/klezmer music, offered a “Happy Joyous Hanukkah” performance last Saturday at the Valley Performing Arts Center. Formed in 1986, the group melds the traditional Eastern European Jewish klezmer genre with contemporary musical trends to form a unique hybrid form.
For example, their 2006 Grammy-winning album Wonder Wheel set dozens of previously unsung Woody Guthrie lyrics to music. Several of these – including the powerful If I Can, beautifully performed by vocalist and violinist Lisa Gautkin – were part of the concert. Each of the dozen or more eclectic pieces were brilliantly executed by Gutkin and fellow musicians Lorin Sklamberg, Michael Sarin, Matt Darriau and Paul Morrissett.
Listening to the Klezmatics selections, one is continually reminded of the diverse tradition of European music, which includes not only klezmer music, but reels, jigs, folk songs and other forms from countries as far-flung as Ireland and Romania. All of these traditions made their way to the New World and are found in everything from African-American spirituals to Appalachian folk songs. The Klezmatics, with their virtuoso musicianship and eclectic tastes, raise this specific genre of European Jewish music to a level of diverse universality.