A gleesome threesome

The Simply Tzfat trio is a mainstay at the annual Klezmer Festival.

By
August 11, 2016 14:29
The Simply Tzfat trio

The Simply Tzfat trio. (photo credit: PR)

 
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Klezmer music seems to encapsulate the full emotional gamut inherent to the Jewish people – from unbridled joy to seemingly inconsolable misery, and plenty in between.

Much of that will be conveyed during the upcoming annual Klezmer Festival, which will take place in Safed from August 15 to 17. The onstage action will be followed by a slew of quality master classes for musicians (August 21 to 25), including concerts by music students from Israel and abroad.

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The roster for the festival features many of the top acts of the genre, such as octogenarian clarinetist Moussa Berlin; violinist Eyal Shiloah; singer Vera Luzinski; and the Klezmerspiel quintet. Like jazz, klezmer increasingly embraces music sensibilities and textures that are not strictly part of the traditional disciplinary fare. In addition to the klezmer acts, this year’s four-day event takes in artists such as pop-rock keyboardist and vocalist Rami Kleinstein, acclaimed jazz saxophonist Daniel Zamir and incendiary multidisciplinary duo Maalox.

The band called Simply Tzfat sounds like an act that sticks more closely to the klezmer tradition. While for fans of 1980s soft rock the name may conjure up images of Simply Red, 50something New York-born Safed resident violinist Yonatan Lipshutz says his trio’s moniker is an original.

“I’ve never heard of Simply Red,” he declares, adding that the band’s title references the reality of everyday life. “Actually, our name is a sort of acronym. It comes from ‘tzarich parnasa tamid’ (you always need to make a living),” he laughs. “That sort of spells out Tzfat.”

On the more serious side, “Simply Tzfat” was also the title of the band’s first recording in 1999.

“It was just a simple recording of music we made, which was called Simply Tzfat, and now it’s called Fresh Air,” continues Lipshutz. “My recollection is that we were at a kumzitz in New York and we were introduced as Simply Tzfat, and [the MC said that] the music is very simple and very organic. I think it’s a bit of an oxymoron. I mean, what’s simple about Tzfat and the Kabbala? The name kind of stuck.”

As far as the band members are concerned, that also fits the spiritual bill. “We are three Breslovers, and Rebbe Nachman [of Breslov], although his Torahs [teachings] are extremely not simple, he talks about simplicity being the avoda [work] of a Jew.”

The violinist and his cohorts – US-born acoustic guitarist-vocalist Elyahu Reiter and Sabra classical guitarist Yonatan Tzarum – all live in Safed. Following on the debut album name change, presumably, they get plenty of festival out & about highlights dining events movies television fresh air in the Galilean hilly woods.

The band’s titular frontispiece may suggest a basic musical line of thought, but listening to some of the Simply Tzfat output, you quickly get the idea that there are several strands to the group’s ethos.

“We are definitely not classical klezmer,” Lipshutz states. “Each of us has our own background, and we bring those influences to the music we play. I have a classical violin background, and Elyahu is more of a folk-Carlebach musician. In fact, I think Shlomo Carlebach was at Elyahu’s wedding. Elyahu, like me, is a baal teshuva.”

The genre plot thickens.

“Yonatan comes from Rehovot. He learned guitar from his father, who was a well-known Israeli flamenco guitarist. Yonatan did the army and went off to the Philippines, or wherever you go after the army, and he came back and also became a hozer be’teshuva.”

The shared secular-religious about-turn and, more importantly, the shared musical interest eventually brought the threesome together, with Tzarum bringing some welcome added value to the fray.

“When we made the first recording, Elyahu and I sat down, with guitar and violin, just the two of us, and we literally went through every song once, and that was it,” Lipshutz recalls.

The pair may have been fast. but the end result needed some tweaking.

“It wasn’t the best quality, and Yonatan had a wedding band here in Safed. Back then, he was more familiar with recording work than we were. He doctored up the tape and added his own track with vocals and guitar, and that’s how we started,” he recounts.


And the threesome has been doing brisk business ever since, performing regularly around the country and making periodic forays to the US, Britain and elsewhere in Europe, putting out half a dozen albums in the process. Number seven is currently in the works.

In truth, it’s hard to understand how Lipshutz, Reiter and Tzarum find the time to get together at all, let alone rehearse and make recordings.

“The new CD is taking forever,” says the fiddler.

“This is a tough one. Getting three Breslovers together is not easy. Yonatan has 10 kids, I have eight and Elyahu has five or six. I have 14 grandchildren, and there are more and more simchas every day,” he laughs.

When they do find the time to get together in a studio, the threesome generally record well-known nigunim (melodies), with one original per album.

“The other tracks are basically nigunim we live with day by day,” says Lipshutz.

That, naturally, helps the work flow to proceed at the requisite pace.

“These are songs we sing on a Shabbat, or other times, and we add our various influences to come up with the recordings,” Lipshutz adds.

But, for the violinist and his pals, nothing beats a good old live performance.

“I don’t think our recordings do us justice,” he notes. “They lack the energy of our live shows.”

There should be plenty of that at the Simply Tzfat gig at the Klezmer Festival next week, where the trio will perform for the 15th year. I asked Lipshutz whether it would be fair to say that, considering the band’s long track record there, the festival wouldn’t be the same without Simply Tzfat. Not surprisingly, modesty prevailed.

“They invited us back, which is already a good sign,” says Lipshutz demurely.

As always, the festival program is replete with free entertainment and activity slots for all ages.

There will be children’s shows daily, from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m., and thrice daily guided tours that take in the ethnic, religious, artistic and landscape gems that Safed and its environs have to offer.

For tickets and more information: http:// klezmerim.info/

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