THE KLEZMORIM > Disko > Notes from Underground > Background 

NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND REPRESENTS OUR CLEAREST vision of klezmer's contribution to the musical ferment of pre-Depression America. On this seminal disc, klezmer gods Tarras and Brandwine duke it out with jazz geniuses Duke Ellington and Sidney Bechet. Betty Boop's signature theme flows into a cartoonesque confection by star tsimbalist Joseph Moskowitz. Traditional folk melodies evolve into uptown Oriental-foxtrot pastiches and wailing, klezmer-flavored blues... Notes from Underground is a daring high-wire act.

Each time our research led us down a new path — horns, Constantinopolitan, improvisational, urban, jazz, '20s dance-band, cartoon — some reviewer or fan would roast us for not being "Jewish" or "traditional" enough. But as Charlie Berg of the Klezmer Conservatory Band has graciously acknowledged, The Klezmorim may simply have been farther along the learning curve than the other klezmer revivalists. For us, the cacophonic clash between folkloric and modish, between ghetto and wide world, encapsulated twentieth-century turbulence — expressing the tension at the heart of klezmer music itself.

Of our many attempts to capture magic on vinyl, the Notes sessions stand out as big fun. For once, we harvested our repertoire at its succulent peak — neither green as on East Side Wedding nor overripe as on Jazz-Babies of the Ukraine. For a change, we used studio time efficiently — focusing on a short list of hot numbers instead of shotgunning a fat playlist and slapping the survivors onto a disc. These sessions were all steak, no gristle.

The band was feeling cool and sassy, too. Emerging from six years of testosterone-fueled dysfunction, we were newly digging one another's strengths — crafting a band culture based more on musical merit than on ego needs. Tom Stamper's hip, propulsive drum licks lifted our spirits, as did Steve Saxon's crisp trumpet riffs.

Producer Bernie Krause deserves maximum credit for the album's cohesiveness and high production values. His ear is legendary. Starting as bassist with breakthrough folksingers The Weavers, Bernie later helped launch the electronic music revolution with duo Beaver & Krause, and went on to become an acknowledged expert in bioacoustics and environmental sound. With engineer Richard Greene, Bernie made our Notes from Underground a deep, smoky soundscape of sizzling horns and thundering drums.

Notes is, in my humble opinion, the best of our five original albums. What a shame it's out of print!