[ICONOKLEZMIC] “The title isn’t a coincidence,” says pianist and co-founder Ralph Huntley about Klezmocracy’s dizzyingly varied new CD, Reach. While the quintet—a first-rate jazz band that just can’t keep from exploring musical side trails that turn out to be remarkably eventful—was doing just fine playing traditional klezmer at weddings and bar mitzvahs. It just couldn’t leave well enough alone. Now, a decade after converging as the house band for the Do Jump! performance troupe (Klezmocracy is now the house band for the radio show Live Wire!), the group’s sophomore disc almost makes its band name a misnomer. Though klezmer (East European Jewish folk music) is still prominent on Reach, the CD unleashes a panoply of styles reflecting the breadth of the band’s influences. “We love playing traditional klezmer,” says co-founder and percussionist Joe Janiga, “but we have many different faces, and this time we decided to really stretch.”
In the years since its 2003 debut disc, the band “went through an experimental phase,” says bandleader Janiga, with four members writing original material that embraced their respective interests—including rock, jazz, electronica and avant-garde improvisation. Despite the composers’ exploration of myriad musical tributaries, over the three years it took to complete the record, they somehow assimilated those diverse elements into a surprisingly cohesive sound. The album (and its individual cuts) takes a wide-ranging stylistic journey, but it’s all seen from the same vehicle.
Reach opens on an unexpectedly low-key note with Janiga’s meditative “Columbia, the Headwaters,” inspired by the river. “Hava Netze,” Janiga’s Carl Stalling-esque “deconstruction” of a traditional Israeli dance tune, is goosed along by Jason DuMars’ intentionally de-tuned sax parts and Damian Erskine’s frantically peripatetic bass line. Huntley wrote “Mideast Midwest” for his old rock band, but its polka-fied klezmer feel fit the session. Later, 3 Leg Torso founder Courtney Von Drehle’s “Resolution” kicks off like an early-’60s Coltrane cut, then embarks on a predictably unpredictable detour. And “Jovano Jovanke,” the band’s exploration of “the ‘Stairway to Heaven’ of traditional Macedonian songs” is perhaps the album’s most musically ambitious cut.
Through it all—whether it’s the solid underlying rhythmic pulse or the band’s natural chemistry that holds it all together—Klezmocracy’s Reach doesn’t exceed its grasp.
SEE IT: Klezmocracy plays the Alberta Rose Theatre on Saturday, June 11. 8 pm. $12. All ages (minors must be with a parent).