In 1992 clarinetist Don Byron, who performed last week at the MCA, released a tribute to 1950s klezmer parodist Mickey Katz. Byron's covers were expertly authentic and executed by topflight jazzers, but it was probably the combination of his own hip persona and the humor in Katz's tunes that helped drum up renewed public interest in klezmer. In the years since, the music of Eastern European Jews has become all the rage in the U.S., from Chicago's own Maxwell Street Klezmer Band to violinist Itzhak Perlman's In the Fiddler's House to a whole slew of stuff on John Zorn's Tzadik label. New York's Klezmatics have remained the most important and adventurous of the 90s klezmer revivalists. (Most of the vocals on Byron's influential album were contributed by Lorin Sklamberg, who handles the same duties for the Klezmatics.) On the group's most recent album, Possessed (Xenophile/Green Linnet), there's plenty of traditional material, but it's suffused with modernist vigor and thoroughly assimilated elements of rock, cabaret, and more--which helps explain how the group has worked with everyone from the Ben Folds Five to the Master Musicians of Jajouka in recent years. The lyrics, from "An Undoing World," a meditation on refugees by Angels in America playwright Tony Kushner, to "Mizmor Shir Lehanef (Reefer Song)," are consistently strong, and the group's musicianship is impeccable. Trumpeter Frank London, violinist Alicia Svigals, and reedist Matt Darriau, who recently replaced the brilliant David Krakauer, have all released fine albums on their own recently, but with drummer David Licht, bassist Paul Morrissett, and singer-accordionist Sklamberg they make a truly beautiful noise--whether or not you have a stake in the heritage they're preserving. Sunday, 9 PM, House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn; 312-527-2583 or 312-923-2000. Peter Margasak
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Lloyd Wolf.