Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Dave Tarras - Freilach in Hi-Fi

Probably because I have a klezmer clarinet gig coming up and have been practicing furiously, I felt compelled to play an album by the master of the klezmer clarinet, Dave Tarras. To get a technicality out of the way right off the bat, the billing on this album is "Murray Lehrer and His Ensemble," with Dave Tarras and trumpeter Lou Levin listed as featured musicians. But one spin is enough for the listener to realize that Tarras is the main attraction here; the back of the album cover even modifies the artist credit: "Murray Lehrer and His Ensemble Featuring Dave TARRAS on the clarinet."

The music is played by a typical New York City/Catskills-style klezmer band of the 1950s: trumpet, clarinet, accordion, piano, bass, and drums, playing traditional European-derived klezmer tunes, American Yiddish theater songs, and Israeli folk dances. The highlight is Tarras' doina (a slow, melismatic improvised melody), which forms the first part of "Doina and Tzushpiel."

Dave Tarras (1898-1989) came to the United States from Russia in 1921 (although "fled" might be a more accurate verb). He quickly established himself as one of the best clarinetists in the klezmer world, rivaled only by the great Naftule Brandwein. But Brandwein was as unpredictable and unreliable as he was talented, so Tarras ended up replacing him in several bands. His recording career began in the 1920s and lasted for decades.

There were three volumes of Freilach in Hi-Fi on the Period label; by the third volume, Tarras was the only musician to get a front cover credit. These were just three of the many LPs Tarras recorded in the 1950s, often for small, obscure labels. Period was perhaps a small label, but it was well-respected for its fine recorded sound (engineered by the famed Jerry Newman), and its impressive catalog of classical, jazz, and world music.

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