Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Knish Doctor Pays A House Call In Providence

video
Images from the Lower East Side Comes To Providence East Side, audio from a Mickey Katz
classic. A review from klezmer shack
This is high-energy comic jolt of the stuff that made Mickey Katz famous. This is the most outrageous combination of fifties Borscht Belt shtick and postmodern Jewish deconstruction I've heard in years and boy do we need it. Mickey Katz is kvelling in a flying shisl somewhere out there and he's urging us all to "essn, essn." But not even Mickey would have dreamed up "I am a Man of Constant Blessings", and unless his son went to Tufts or Brandeis (like, say, the son of a certain bandmember of my acquaintance), we'd miss out on a very straight, delightfully a capella "Oseh Shalom." But what the heck. If uncontrollable laughter is what you need, just hang in there—the "Knish Doctor" will be up shortly.
The opening title track introduces us to trouble: "you won't find this in the torah / this ain't no hora", all to a pulsating mambo beat. I'm less fond of the tour of rock and rock 'n' roll history that is "My Yiddishe Mama", and I like the idea of "Tsuris," but never enjoyed the Joe and Paul version. It's updated, but I'm not convinced that it's what it could be yet. Lenny Bruce they weren't. On the other hand, this band's "Trombonik Tanz," gives the wonderful revival by Shtreiml a run for its money.
The album channels Mickey Katz perfectly. Sometimes that means the pieces seem slightly dated, as on "Cheder Days", a vision that seems out of place relative to my generation's sterile shuls (same bad jokes, though) or what I hope to be a somewhat better environment to which we've subjected this generation of kids (though, listening to my youngest, I suspect the jokes are no better). Sometimes, they go to places that Katz would happily have imagined had he lived today (the aforementioned "man of constant blessings" or the doina-ized "Gentile on my mind"). On the other hand, "Essen," for all that it harks to an age that is long gone, is still funny on its own madness.
My favorite parts are admittedly retro: "K'nock around the clock" and "Knish Doctor" (especially with the quote from "Wimoweh" in the middle). But the band is tighter than the seal on a bottle of manichevitz gefilte fish and the words are in the best tradition of Yinglish for the new century: "But then I hear the clarinet and it almost makes me forget the uncle from detroit who wants me to play 'Sunrise sunset'". The transition from In A Gadda Da Vida to "Yesh Yesh Yesh" makes the simkha from hell, "Play Klezmer Play" a joyous triumph of will over the (only slightly changed) simkha of today.
The band hasn't forgotten klezmer, of course. That's where they began. On "Second Avenue Square Dance" and "Li'l Gypsy" they show off their more traditional Jewish chops (rock and roll and Mickey Katz we already know they mastered—but then, Mickey was no slouch on the clarinet, neither). But they don't stop there. Indeed, only space is the "final meshugass" as they boldly go where no Jew has gone before. Indeed, the lovely speech, "chutzpah" dropped inside the theremin-embroidered "Nudnik the Flying Shisl" proves that no matter how outrageous the music, the words can be even more fun.

Personnel on this recording:
Bert Stratton: clarinet, tenor sax, harmonica, vocals
Irwin Weinberger: vocals, alto sax, guitar, banjo, mandolin, dobro
Steve Ostrow: trombone, trumpet, violin, jew's harp, vocals
Alan Douglass: vocals, keyboards, sequencing, guitar, theremin
Don Friedman: drums, percussion
Daniel Ducoff: shtickmeister (dance leader), slide whistle

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