You won’t know whether to dance with pure joy or turn the lights down and weep from the heart when you listen to Kleztory’s newest album Nigun (“melody” in Hebrew), which was just launched April 12 at Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier of Place des Arts.
The emotional rollercoaster is a thrilling one and the dozen songs on this, their fifth CD, are proof that the internationally renowned klezmer band based in Montreal has achieved a peak not only in musicianship, but in its very raison d’être.
It’s all the more remarkable when you realize that none of the band members is Jewish.
The album’s liner notes express how the band wishes to “highlight not only the traditions of Jewish culture, but also the human aspects and emotions of every person regardless of nationality or religion….We only need to learn how to embrace and respect our differences, and Kleztory believes music is (a) great way to start.”
The magic of this music is that it takes all people into their memories and interprets the pulse of the present as well. It isn’t your “ordinary” klezmer album with horahs falling over freilechs, although five of the dozen numbers are infectious. It’s the drama and soulfulness of this album that make it a listening experience to cherish.
From the tender Im Eshkachech composed by Rabbi Mordechai Dov-Ber Twerski to remind celebrants at simchot that the world is not perfect, to Soulmate, a doina lament that spotlights the desert-like sound of the duclar (a hybrid of clarinet and Armenian doudouk), there’s pleasure in the pain of its beauty.
Moldavian Hora, a graceful piece that could be used as a kerchief dance between bride and groom, is presented as a tribute to immigrants.
Two of the band’s five members, clarinettist Airat Ichmouratov and violinist wife Elvira Misbakhova have been in the shoes of the immigrant, arriving in Montreal from Russia in 1998 and 1999, respectively.
They joined Kleztory in 2000. The other three members, double bassist Mark Peetsma, accordionist Melanie Bergeron and guitarist Dany Nicolas, are locals.
While acquiring their postgrad degrees at the Université de Montréal – his in conducting and hers in interpretation – Ichmouratov and Misbakhova became street and metro buskers for four hours a day. That’s where they picked up their first horah, leading to the rich and varied repertoire they now espouse.
That Ichmouratov came to classically conduct groups like the Orchestre Nouvelle Génération and I Musici and compose for them, as well, is especially evident in two of the six pieces he’s written for the album.
Churchill Street Hora is a delightful, symphonic interpretation of a busy neighbourhood with each instrument embodying a personality or entity. In contrast, his My Mother’s Nigun is haunting and exquisite, so much so that when Ichmouratov whispers in Russian to his mother who died in a 2015 car crash, there’s no need to understand the words because his tear-inducing music is pure love.
In September, a new symphony of Ichmouratov’s commissioned by the Longueuil Symphony Orchestra makes its debut. Misbakhova also plays with orchestras and was a pupil of the late Eleonora Turovsky. She’s equally at home playing popular music and will accompany singing star Céline Dion on her European tour this summer.
But both Ichmouratov and Misbakhova are at their freest when onstage with Kleztory.
“Jewish folk music is one of the best universal languages. You can express yourself through it,” says Ichmouratov. Kleztory bases its style on a Jewish sound, even when it combines with other genres, like the result of Peetsma’s idea to adapt the father of bluegrass music Bill Monroe’s Jerusalem Ridge “exactly the way klezmorim musicians would do in adapting any repertoire to theirs.”
The group embarks on a European tour this fall.
The album is available at Archambault and can be sampled at www.kleztory.com