Margot Leverett and the Klezmer Mountain Boys at Drom 10-7-08

Hot damn! This show was great!

It was my first visit to Drom, and I’ll definitely go back. I’ve wanted to visit this club that specializes in world music (typically of the Eastern European variety) for about a year now, and I’m happy to report that it’s very nice inside with good sound. There is a decent amount of open space to sit or stand at the bar (far more room than a place like the Blue Note), but the ideal view is from the tables, which carry a $20 minimum that is easily met with their fine array of tapas. Senor Hochstat and I made this journey, and amongst the small plates we shared, I’d definitely recommend the Deep-Fried Okra with Sea Salt and Lemon and the Spanish Chorizo in Turkish Chili Pepper Sauce. The sauce was so damn tasty that I lapped it up with what must have been half a loaf of bread. I also had a Turkish beer, Effe, which was like a more flavorful pilsner. Believe it or not, “flavorful pilsner” is not an oxymoron.

Clarinetist Margo Leverett and the Klezmer Mountain Boys (Barry Mitterhoff, Kenny Kosek, Joe Selly, and Marty Confurius) came on stage around 8:30 and the fairly crowded house was treated to a phenomenal blend of klezmer and bluegrass. Others have mined the “Jewgrass” hybrid territory before (offhand, Hypnotic Clambake as well as Andy Statman and David Grisman’s collaborations come to mind), but there was something different about this lineup, and I think it was Leverett’s clarinet. Capable of oozing Eastern European sorrow and klezmerized unbridled joy, it was a great treat to really hear her delve into the traditional bluegrass numbers, such as “Lee Highway Blues.” While there, she fit in perfectly. Her sound was very different than other reed players who’ve worked in this genre, forgoing the emotionally detached and smooth styles of Paul McCandless or Jeff Coffin and moving more toward an imitation of a mandolin or fiddle. I don’t know the term for it (I’m sure someone can correct me), but she was able to duplicate that sound mandolin and fiddle players make when they’re accompanying a soloist by just plucking on the upbeats. It was very cool.

There were special guests galore, including vocalist Jen Larsen from local bluegrass band Straight Drive, who sounded nice on “Lil’ Moses,” Klezmatics drummer David Licht, who was ripping it up all night long in a unique style that relied solely upon brushwork, and banjo machine Tony Trischka, who brought an amazing level of virtuosity and tasteful fills to the ensemble. Of course, everyone was buzzed to see Jorma Kaukonen, who had taught a class upstate earlier that day and rode in a car to come to this gig, only to immediately make the 3.5 hour trip back afterward. It was hilarious to watch the musicians fumble around and trip over each other on the tiny stage, as they attempted to untangle a web of powerstrips and microphone cables in order to get Jorma plugged in. I believe his first song was called “Electric Kugel,” and with him heavily in the mix, this became some sort of weird psychedelic kosher cowboy odyssey. He switched to acoustic for the next and last song of the set, which was more of a straight-ahead pickin’ number.

This really was a special show, and I can’t thank Gayle Kaufman enough for bringing it to my attention. I gave their new album, 2nd Avenue Square Dance, a quick listen this morning, and it’s great. It, too, is loaded with guests. In addition to those musicians mentioned above, the album boasts Darol Anger, Mike Marshall, Bryn Bright, Hazel Dickens, and many more on mostly lively instrumental tracks. I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who is a fan of EITHER bluegrass or klezmer because more than likely, you will become a fan of both genres by the time you finish hearing it.

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