Review: Minimal Klezmer at The Mill. Walthamstow

Minimal Klezmer
(The Mill, Walthamstow, 14 December 2013. Review by Andy Boeckstaens)

Enthused by Minimal Klezmer’s début recording CD (reviewed here in November) I sat with a few dozen others to listen to the band in a small community space on a Walthamstow side-street. The CD was good, but nothing could have prepared me for the live experience.

Martin Teshome’s cello set the pace with Mitzve Tenzl, joined by Francesco Socal on clarinet and Bob Durante on melodica. For the next hour, we were transported on a whistle-stop tour of Eastern Europe and beyond, with joyful dances and moody dirges delivered with sincerity, humour and great gusto.

It was fascinating to hear how some of the pieces on the record – which also features an accomplished accordionist – were rearranged for the basic trio. The titles Old Bulgar, Ukrainer Kuhsidl and Orientalishe Motive betray something of their origins. Socal worked his way through piccolo, alto and bass clarinets, and made vaguely absurdist announcements, often at the expense of his colleagues. Squatting on the floor, Durante struck a multitude of things surrounding him: a glockenspiel one minute, small metal trays the next, at one point creating a fast vamp by tapping tiny bells with astonishing precision. Beavering tirelessly at the back, Teshome was rock solid. The tightness of the arrangements – and the skill of their execution - was thrilling, yet the improvisation quotient was high and it swung like mad.

The performance became more theatrical as it went on. Socal bounced up and down and sang passionately. Durante – during a fine melodica solo - managed to drop things including a toy piano onto small cymbals to produce perfectly-timed crashes. Trapped behind his cello, Teshome was forced into being the straight man, and could only look on in amusement.

All of the selections, including Free-Vesile and Unzer Toirele-Taxim from the album, seemed to contain just the right mixture of sobriety and skewed sardonicism. A number of unconventional objects were employed, mostly for percussive effect...including a fire extinguisher and a staple-gun! Various items were handed to the audience to shake, rattle and blow. Most people were typically reticent, but a little boy who was given a duck-call was truly entranced; he delighted the crowd and almost stole the show.

Towards the end, there was a play-fight which ended up with Socal and Durante in a heap on the floor, and it was genuinely funny when a rubber pig was made to grunt when squeezed between a pair of headphones. Hard to believe, but all this happened while everyone was playing furiously.

Don’t be deceived by the clowning, though. There may have been a fair amount of comedy and physicality in the performance, but these men are serious about their music. Minimal Klezmer succeeded in delivering a highly entertaining and satisfying show.

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