I watched a concert online, *A Mazel Tov Cocktail Party,* on Jan 2, 2021 (it was streamed live on Dec 26). My friend Stephanie told me about it and I’m so glad she did, it was rockin’! The music was klezmer blended with funk, a beguiling mix of the old and the new.
Stephanie said this about the experience: ”It was an ASTONISHING collaboration between the musicians and the videographers - the sheer number of films they used, all the different cultures represented, the wacky psychedelic backdrops they created, getting the musicians to look like they were in the same room - ALL of that takes HUNDREDS of hours of work. I just couldn't believe it, I thought it was so amazing, funky and brilliant. My favorite thing I've seen in a long time.”
Here's a live performance from 2015. It starts with a five-minute a cappella solo by clarinetist David Krakauer, wildly virtuosic, I've never heard anything like it. The rest of the band drops in at the five-minute mark and you can hear the funk element of their sound:
The concert started with this message at the end of the opening credits: “*A Mazel Tov Cocktail Party* is a ‘good times explosion’ created in response to the current climate of polarization and negativity that pervades our daily lives. In these uncertain times, it’s a chance for all of us to come together to celebrate our common humanity.”
Yes, thank you! More of that! The first piece was “Simcha Theme Song,” fabulous and funky. The use of video was inventive and delicious, lots of old school effects, like double exposures and kaleidoscopic mirrorings, that kind of thing. The video artist was Michael Joseph McQuilken, and he had a lot to do with the success of the concert.
The core ensemble was five players:
David Krakauer: clarinet and vocals
Kathleen Tagg: piano, keyboard, accordion, and cello
Jerome Harris: electric bass and vocals
Yoshie Fruchter: electric guitar and oud
Martin Shamoonpour: daf and jaw’s harp
I’d never heard of the daf before, it’s a large round handheld drum. He played it sitting down, and it was impressive how much sound and FUNK he was able to get out of a single drum. Here's Asal Malekzadeh, "The Queen of Daf," playing a solo:
The second piece, “Krakky’s Rainbow Polka,” was preceded by this explanatory note: “LGBTQ and women’s reproductive rights are currently under intense attack by Poland’s government. In the summer of 2020 a group of women of the Polish Parliament staged a simple, but very powerful protest by standing together in different colored dresses to form a rainbow in solidarity.” The music was another mixture of old and new, a traditional polka combined with funk. The video footage brought it up to a new level, a mixture of grainy home movie polka footage from the 70s and footage from a Black club in the US in the 70s. The rapper Sarah MK dropped in for a verse in the middle, that was exciting (and it was already exciting).
Next was “North Country Square Dance,” which was combo platter of 70s rap and klezmer (with Sarah MK again) with what looked like film of 1950s square dancing, also some old timey rodeo footage, and was that a cornflakes commercial? It was that kind of situation.
“I’m a Poor Wayfaring Stranger.” That’s note a comment from me, it’s the title of the next song. Jerome Harris, the bass player, sang the solo, it was lovely and a nice change in flavor from what we had heard so far. He did some Middle Eastern-flavored melismatic singing, which was a welcome surprise in this American folk song. The Middle Eastern vibe was aided by Fruchter having switched from electric guitar to oud. I love me some oud!
“Mazel Tov Cocktail Party” was up tempo and was done to videos of a jitterbug contest, some little kids dancing disco at a party, clips from *Soul Train,* and Dean Martin mixing cocktails in some cheesy old movie! Love it!
The tone of the next song, “Der Gasn Nign,” was set by the video setting: the musicians were placed in a cobblestone street, in black and white. We heard Tagg playing the piano for the first time (she had played electric keyboards, accordion, and cello so far) and what a treat to see her playing the strings of the instrument and not just the keys. Krakauer really WAILED on his big solo, it was thrilling.
The concert ended with “Hora at the Castle,” which featured exuberant video of a Jewish wedding, with the bride and groom being lifted up and bounced around on chairs. They appeared to be having a great time and her dress was fabulous. The music was incredible - - it wasn’t until the end of the song that I realized they were playing “Hava Nagila,” it had been so intensely repurposed and reworked. I would say, “I want them to play at my wedding” but I’m already married and the DJ at our wedding was marvelous. I’ll say instead that I want to attend a wedding where they’re the band. I would CUT a RUG.