This disc brings has a host of performers from the worlds of klezmer, jazz, experimental rock, or some combination thereof- performing songs from the musical Fiddler on the Roof. The result is a surprisingly even and enjoyable collection. It is also an excellent introduction to klezmer - a style of music that often utilizes horns and violins and has traditionally been based in Jewish communities- for jazz aficionados.
Irreverence runs wild on some tracks. The opener, "Tradition," by the New Orleans Klezmer Allstars is full of traditionally fast paced klezmer but the modified lyrics place matchmaking traditions right beside smoking pot amongst other indulgences. The Residents use modern distortion techniques to beautifully displace "Matchmaker." In the musical, the song was upbeat and full of hope but here the dominant themes are irony and cynicism. There are also hilarious but loving looks at Jewish customs by Dr. Eugene Chadbourne and Negativeland. Chadbourne uses folk while Negativeland’s track is a nonstop barrage of musical and sound samples. The tempo and melody of the tune switches several times but listeners who stick with it will find many rewarding elements just below the surface.
The groups, Naftule’s Dream and Hasidic New Wave, that are known for combining rock and klezmer shine brightly on Knitting on the Roof. Both groups use horns as well as guitars, bass, and drums to create a sound that, at the very least, references jazz. The result is tracks that basically amount to fusion with a klezmer twist. The guitar work by David Fiuczynski on Hasidic New Wave’s "Wedding Celebration" is especially good. Fiuczynski has influences that run the gamut from jazz to blues to avant rock with a bit a surf instrumentalism thrown in for good measure. Also fitting in this slot is "Do you Love Me?" by the group Come. Clarinet player Thalia Zedek and guitarist Chris Brokaw provide the musical backing for a purported phone call between a married couple arguing over whether to give a particular suitor permission to marry their daughter. The track is fun for what its worth although the "vocals" prevent it from being a track to listen to over and over again.
Saxophonist David S. Ware does a solo reading of "Far from the Home I Love," which unfortunately is the weakest track. It is not that the performance is bad so much as that the track seems out of place for earnestness. The performances by Uri Caine, Elliot Sharp, and the Paradox Trio work out better. All fall at least much into the "new music" category as they do jazz but jazz based improvisation of the avant-garde sort does crop up.
The weakest part of this disc is that there is not one sound or style on this disc. By the time I really got into some of the tracks, Knitting on the Roof had moved on. Yet a certain congruity does exist here and a listener will find that Producer Michael Dorf has taken the time to create a disc that has an internal, if widely varied, rhythm.