Saturday, March 2, 2013

"The Rich Past and Edgy Future of Jewish Music Live at Lincoln Center"
by delarue

Last night at Lincoln Center, singer/accordionist Olga Mieleszczuk’s Polesye Project and the Shofar Trio made their American debuts in an often riveting program that spanned some of the best of Jewish music from the 19th century to the present, both melodically and lyrically. With a nuanced, expressive voice that ranged from plaintive and haunting to coyly whimsical, Mieleszczuk led her band - Ittai Binnun on multi-reeds and guitar and Uri Sharlin on accordion and piano, with the Klezmatics’ Lisa Gutkin guesting on violin – through an eclectic set of material from the repertoire of 1930s-era Polish-Canadian chanteuse Mariam Nirenberg. Nirenberg hailed from Polesye (now encompassing adjacent parts of Poland, Belarus, the Ukraine and Russia), “one of the wildest and most mysterious regions,” as Mieleszczuk put it, managing to make an escape just as Hitler’s reign of terror was getting underway. The songs she brought with her spanned much of the Jewish diaspora in Europe, as well as a similar range of emotional terrain rich with irony and dark humor. The band opened with a sad brooding, klezmer waltz and closed with a lushly glimmering art-rock version of a Yiddish pop hit from the era that Nirenberg had recast as a lullaby. In between, they romped through a couple of dance numbers livened with Gutkin’s alternately wry and biting lines, a bitter deathbed ballad from Russia, a jauntily sardonic number about a guy who can’t seem to hook up with any of the girls at the party despite his fancy shoes, and a swooping and then sweepingly triumphant take of the old Ukrainian folk song Akh Odessa, done as more of an adventurous immigrant’s tale than nostalgic look back.

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