Tiny Desk

The Klezmatics

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The Klezmatics: Tiny Desk Concert

In the Jewish tradition, you're supposed to greet Rosh Hashanah — the New Year — with foods like honey, apples, dates and pomegranates. But all those treats can get kind of sticky, so we wanted to usher in the year 5772 the way we know best: with some sweet, sweet music.

So we invited The Klezmatics to stop by for a little holiday celebration. Twenty-five years into its career together, the band is one of the greatest klezmer groups in the world, but its members are more than that: They're Jewish innovators, American roots-rockers, punkish social activists and folkie balladeers. (Keep an eye out for the forthcoming documentary On Holy Ground, directed by Erik Greenberg Anjou, which chronicles The Klezmatics' anarchic and messy path to musical glory.)

The Grammy-winning band's lineup has changed pretty fluidly over the last quarter-century, but the four Klezmatics who visited us — Lorin Sklamberg, Paul Morrissett, Matt Darriau and Lisa Gutkin — epitomize their spirit of amazing musicianship and restless wandering. They kicked things off with a bouncy dance, "Gilad and Ziv's Sirba," and with an alto sax joining guitar, accordion and violin, it took on something of a brassily subversive, Romani Gypsy vibe.

Next up was the dulcet "On Holy Ground," with words by Woody Guthrie. Sklamberg, Gutkin and Morrissett's vocals are sheer roots Americana, but they're beautifully offset by an Eastern European twist of clarinet and the tsimbl, a hammered dulcimer. And, lest we get too wound up in a reflective mood, The Klezmatics brought us back to the dance floor with a wry tune that's a good fit for our own uncertain times: "Maybe if we sing a little louder, we can wake up the Messiah, who obviously is taking a little nap."

Set List
  • "Gilad and Ziv's Sirba" (Lorin Sklamberg)
  • "Holy Ground" (Frank London; lyrics by Woody Guthrie)
  • "Zol shoyn kumen di geule" (Shmerke Kaczerginsky; arranged by Frank London)

Michael Katzif, Christina Fletes (cameras); edited by Bob Boilen; audio by Kevin Wait, Robin Hilton; photo by Mallory Benedict/NPR

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