(HUDSON, N.Y.) – Golem, widely considered one of the best Yiddish-klezmer ensembles on a vibrant, international scene, will perform its unique blend of Eastern European folk and theatre songs as well as original numbers at Club Helsinki Hudson on Sunday, May 5, 2013, at 8p.m. Led by singer/folklorist/accordionist Annette Ezekiel, Golem performs Yiddish folk and theater music with Balkan, Slavic and Gypsy influences.
Golem has stumbled upon a rich vein of traditional music in passionate songs of the Old World. And with only a slight modicum of non-traditional elements added to the arrangements – a little jazz here, a pop quotation there, some rock ‘n’ roll bounce in the drums here, a surprisingly sympathetic bit of Latin or swing there – Golem has unearthed a treasure trove. Think of it as another world of standards – the eastern, darker, but no less sophisticated inverse face of the so-called Great American Songbook.
On a trip to Serbia a few years ago, Annette Ezekiel wound up spending a long night jamming with a group of Gypsy musicians. With her dark, Eastern European looks, she could easily pass for a fellow Gypsy — although they knew she was from the U.S. and throughout the night they called her sister. Then, after the last tune was swapped and it came time to say goodbye, they turned to her and asked her what she was.
“When I told them I was Jewish they said, ‘We’re the same thing,’ and then they played ‘Hava Nagila’ with all the wrong chords,” said Ezekiel in a recent phone interview from her apartment in New York.
Despite the wrong chords, it was a telling experience, confirming for Ezekiel what she had already sensed and what she had been exploring with her band, Golem — the natural affinity between Yiddish music and Eastern European songs from Russian, Serbian, Gypsy, Romanian and other traditions.
Although often lumped in with the vital klezmer scene centered in downtown New York, Golem is not really a klezmer band. It shares with klezmer the sound of Yiddish and the bittersweet, laughing and crying quality, which Ezekiel says she finds to some extent in all of the Eastern European folk music she plays.
One difference, however, comes in the Yiddish theater and folk songs that Golem favors over the wedding-dance repertoire that comprises the bulk of most klezmer band’s set lists. In Golem’s hands, well-known songs like “Papirosn” and lesser known ones like “Rivkele” are brimming with sensuality and passion and delivered with raw emotion. (This being said, the group is highly in demand for weddings; indeed, it’s a wedding that is bringing them up to the region this coming weekend.)
”The Yiddish theater music is considered lowbrow stuff,” said Ezekiel, who began dancing with an Ukrainian folk ensemble as a child. “The sexiness is built into that, and people have let that fall by the wayside and let it get overrun by nostalgia.”
Golem also differs in its instrumentation. The group features two singers — Ezekiel, who doubles on accordion, and Aaron Diskin — as well as a bassist, a drummer, a trombonist and a violinist.
”The only really klezmer instrument is the violin,” said Ezekiel. “Even the accordion wasn’t in klezmer bands until much later. I wanted that because I wanted it to sound different from the clarinet-driven klezmer bands.”
Rather than present an isolated style of music, Ezekiel’s aim is to recontextualize klezmer and Yiddish music by juxtaposing them with their co-territorial sounds.
”Klezmer originated in that region and incorporated influences from whatever music was around there, be it Russian, Moldavian, Balkan, Rumanian. I think it’s interesting to hear those different kinds of music together in one sitting. Somehow they are pretty different, but they do make sense together.”