Klezmer all around

Kolsimcha will offer the Tel Aviv Museum audience an exciting mix of klezmer music seasoned with jazz and classical music.

Kolsimcha (photo credit: OLIVIER TRUAN)
(photo credit: OLIVIER TRUAN)
When I was hardly taller than knee level to the proverbial grasshopper, there was a dog-eared paperback lying around our house with a title that ran something like “You Don’t Have to Be Jewish to Enjoy Jewish Humor.” It appears the same goes for klezmer music.
The Kolsimcha group is joyful sonorous proof of that – although, it must be said, not entirely. Clarinetist Michael Heitzler is “of the faith,” and flutist Ariel Zuckermann was born in Tel Aviv. Zuckermann also moonlights as conductor of the Israel Chamber Orchestra. Add to that the fact that the Swiss band’s longstanding bass player, Daniel Fricker, quit the troupe recently and will be replaced in Israel by Barak Mori, the lineup for the forthcoming Kolsimcha concert at the Tel Aviv Museum (July 6, 8:30 p.m.), and you admittedly end up with a predominantly Jewish ensemble.
Still, the man who was an active party to getting the show on the road in the first place, pianist Olivier Truan, is not Jewish. He and Heitzler are the only survivors of the original 1986 lineup.
So, what drew a nice Swiss young man to this most Jewish of Ashkenazi sonic genres? “Michael [Heitzler] asked me if I wanted to play in a band at a Jewish wedding,” Truan recalls. “That’s how I got into klezmer music. We played all the traditional songs. So I got a good idea of klezmer from that time.”
In fact, Truan followed a long and winding musical road before joining forces with Heitzler, and eventually getting Kolsimcha up and running.
“I started with classical music, and then I got into pop and rock. I became interested in jazz when I heard [iconic jazz saxophonist John Coltrane’s album] A Love Supreme.”
Canadian jazz pianist Oscar Peterson also grabbed the teen-aged Truan’s attention, and he subsequently developed an ear and a soft spot for the work of trumpeter Miles Davis and keyboardist Herbie Hancock.
Considering the multifarious musical backdrop the members of the band bring to the performing and recording fray, it comes as no surprise to note that the Kolsimcha klezmer output is liberally seasoned with jazzy, classical and other colors.
“We have a traditional side, but we also have our own compositions and our own style,” Truan explains. “We can play very traditionally, and then we will go off into other directions.”
The pianist certainly has plenty of musical subplots of his own to offer. He studied at a couple of prestigious Stateside jazz educational institutions – Berklee College of Music in Boston and the Manhattan School of Music in the Big Apple – and furthered his classically based endeavor at the Academy of Music in his hometown of Basel. His sideman jazz slots include berths with such stellar performers as vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater, trumpeter Lew Soloff and saxophonist Rick Margitza.
Once Truan, Heitzler et al. hit their klezmer groove, there was no stopping them. Before long they went for broke, teaming up with various full-blown orchestras as they fused the beguiling sounds of Jewish Eastern Europe with sumptuously textured classical airs – with jazzy intent frequently forcing its way into the band’s reckoning. The latter mindset is happily underscored by the newest member of the band, drummer Christoph Staudenmann, who joined in 2007 after studying with trumpeter Billy Brooks and Swiss percussionist Pierre Favre at jazz schools in Bern and Lucerne. Meanwhile, Heitzler learned the tools of his improvisation trade with Jewish American avant-garde saxophonist Dave Liebman, and also did the business with preeminent classical violinist Itzhak Perlman, German jazz trombonist Albert Mangelsdorff, jazz drummer Billy Hart and Grammy-winning outfit The Klezmatics.
To date, in its various guises, Kolsimcha has put out nine albums, with the most recent possibly the most prestigious of the ever-burgeoning discography. It goes by the name of Kolsimcha & London Symphony Orchestra, and features Truan, Heitzler and Zuckermann alongside the illustrious LSO. The uplifting experience was spiritually and acoustically amplified by the fact that the recording sessions took place at the legendary Abbey Road Studios. “That’s the best studio in the world,” Truan enthuses. “I grew up with the Beatles so, for me, that was really exciting.”
Truan said he is also enticed by the oxymoronic mix of sounds, rhythms and sensibilities that comprise klezmer music. “There is joy and also sadness in it – something a little bluesy, I think,” he notes. “It is so powerful, all the emotions. All of us [in the band] are attracted by that.”
The pianist and his Kolsimcha cohorts also dip into the variegated cultural baggage that informs klezmer music across its natural hinterland. A number of years ago, American-born Israeli klezmer fiddler Daniel Hoffman recorded a fascinating CD, as part of Trio Carpion, that culled various strains of the genre from different locations around Eastern Europe. Truan says he certainly buys into the international klezmer approach. “That gives you so much freedom, and lets you take from all kinds of music.”
Truan also goes along with the aforementioned hypothesis that you don’t have to be Jewish to dig klezmer music.
“I remember [internationally acclaimed Israeli clarinetist] Giora Feidman played in a piece called ‘Ghetto’ in the 1980s, which kicked off the klezmer scene in Germany then.” The work was part of the sound track for the Yehoshua Sobol play of the same name, on which Feidman played the solo spot. ”I think the Germans have quite an affinity with the music, which is quite interesting when you think of their past.”
Over the last three decades, Kolsimcha has played all over the world, at some of the most glittering venues, including Carnegie Hall, the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London, the Montreux International Jazz Festival and the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam.
Truan et al. have also plied their trade to a wide variety of audiences, of all ages and of all social and cultural stripes.
“People in different countries react the same,” he says. “We get amazing reactions. Often people say they have never heard music like this before, but they say it was an emotional experience for them.”
That is not to say the band hasn’t had its challenges in winning their audience over from time to time. That includes playing at a detention center for youth in Germany.
The pianist says it was initially a trying experience, but that it all worked out well for all concerned in the end.
“They were aged between around 16 and 20 years old, and they had to go to the concert. At the start they hated it. By the end they were totally into it. These were convicts, you know, murderers and others. That was one of our craziest times.”
The members of the Tel Aviv Museum audience may very well go a little crazy next week too, in the most positive sense of the word.
For tickets and more information: *3221 and (03) 518-8845, ext. 5.