Sat Jan 19
Stumptown on Division, 10:30 am;
and Tennessee Red's Texas BBQ, 9 pm
Let's get this out of the way: Shicky Gnarowitz and the Transparent Wings of Joy are a klezmer band, and one of their first shows since relocating to Portland from California is in a BBQ joint. No, those ribs ain't kosher. And Shicky's violin player well, she's a vegetarian. Oh, the ironic hilarity!
What's not so funny, but still thoroughly enjoyable, is the music they play--a charismatic take on traditional klezmer music, the vibrant Jewish folk music that often includes clarinet, violin, and accordion. Utilizing acoustic guitar (Shicky), upright bass (Dave "the Diamond Lee" Leavitt), and the most perfectly intoned violin (A. Snot and, sometimes, Sierra Collum), the group plays originals and standard Jewish wedding songs beautifully, with saucily accented rhythms and an enthusiastic, lighthearted glow. "We traveled around Europe playing the stuff and made a lot of money in the streets," says A. "People like this music just about everywhere because it's so easy to listen to. It's either really sad or perky, and it's easy to relate to. Those sad Jews were oppressed and didn't have much else to do, but write good music."
Klezmer has experienced a revival in the past 30 years, and though it's gotten an avant-garde makeover by bands such as Hasidic New Wave, Naftule's Dream, and New Klezmer Trio, the Shicky Gnarowitz group has absolutely no interest in performing jazz-klezmer fusion music. "We try to keep it old-style; we don't soup it up with keyboards and saxophones," explains A. "But the traditional way of playing it in Eastern Europe and in New York, when the Jews came over at the turn of the century, was a lot more soft-spoken and gloomy. They sounded more like plodding along through a bog. We are more aggressive than that," she says.
For the originals, Shicky writes their melodies by humming, and A. plays what she hears on her violin. Shicky says, "I love playing traditional songs and all, but it's almost like a rock band playing a bunch of cover songs. We should just have some originals."
"You wouldn't notice that they're not traditional songs, I think," Dave asserts. "If we're playing the old klezmer songs, and then we play one of Shicky's songs, it sounds just like the others we play, as far as the feeling goes."
Despite that Shicky's music can sound eerily melodic, it is ultimately celebratory music for dancing. It conveys an exhilaration that is effective because of its pretty simplicity. "It's haunting and spooky; that's the way it's been played," explains A. "But being young and vigorous and happy for the most part, we can't or don't play them that way."