Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Bester Quartet – The Golden Land (2013) ***1/2

Jaroslaw Bester - bayan
Jaroslaw Tyrala - violin
Oleg Dyyak - clarinet
Mikolaj Pospieszalski - bass
Tomasz Zietek - trumpet
Magdalena Pluta - cello
Marcin Malinowski - bass clarinet


By Adam Baruch

The Polish / Jewish poet / songwriter Mordechai Gebirtig was born, raised and lived in Krakow, where he also found his tragic death from a Nazi bullet in the Krakow Ghetto in 1942. His vast legacy proves he was the preeminent Yiddish songwriter of his time, but more importantly his prophetic vision of the Jewish fate in Europe is truly astounding in retrospect.

This album presents a collection of ten songs written by Gebirtig and performed by the Bester Quartet, a Polish ensemble, which also comes from Krakow. The ensemble was originally formed as the Cracow Klezmer Band in 1997 and later on changed its name to Bester Quartet. The songs were arranged by the leader of the Bester Quartet, accordionist / composer Jaroslaw Bester. The remaining members of the quartet are violinist Jaroslaw Tyrala, multi-instrumentalist Oleg Dyyak and bassist Mikolaj Pospieszalski. On this album the lineup also features three guest musicians: trumpeter Tomasz Zietek, cellist Magdalena Pluta (from Samech) and bass clarinetist Marcin Malinowski.

The Cracow Klezmer Band / Bester Quartet released six (including this one) albums on the prestigious Tzadik label, as part of the "Radical Jewish Culture" series, which marks them as the heroes of the Jewish Cultural Renaissance in Poland, which is now in its second decade. Some people, me included, find this "Renaissance" somewhat perplexing, intriguing and even a bit ridiculous, especially in view of the fact that there are practically no Jews left in Poland and the infamous Polish anti-Semitism is still looming in the background. But a thousand years of Jewish presence in Poland can be still traced and the fact that some artists are interested in preservation of this lost Culture is wonderful regardless of the circumstances.

Bester and his companions are all truly wonderful musicians and his skillful arrangements are delightful and quite sophisticated. I would have enjoyed this music much more if it wasn't pre-sold under the Jewish tag, as honestly there is very little left of the original Eastern-European Jewish feel herein. Yes there are some sentimental violin or clarinet parts, and other typical shticks but overall this is simply some great Jazz-World Fusion, which sounds Argentinean, Parisian, Balkan or whatever, and honestly since I know these songs in their original versions since my early childhood, I'm not sure Gebirtig himself would have recognized them as his own.

Nevertheless this music deserves to be heard and can be enjoyed by music connoisseurs anywhere in the world. The level of performances and execution is definitely first-class and there is so much beauty and deep melancholy in this music that nobody should be left cold. Personally some other releases in the Radical Jewish Culture series on Tzadik made a much stronger impact on me than this release, but I can still appreciate the dedication and talent that went into making this recording. A bi gezunt!

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