A roundup of recently released CDs featuring Yiddish tunes yields albums that evoke the past, some with original settings and contemporary arrangements of classic subject matter, others with sounds from an earlier day.
In his new CD, "Garden of Yidn" (Naxos World), violinist and music historian Yale Strom, who will be in concert in Los Angeles next week, offers tunes going back as far as the early 19th century, giving the listener not only a superior musical experience but some fascinating historical sketches of Jews in the Yiddish- and Ladino-speaking world. The album really is a garden of varied colors, languages, and styles. Whether in arrangements of well-known songs or original pieces, the album features virtuoso playing by members of Strom's two klezmer bands, Klaazj and Hot Pstromi. "Garden of Yidn" includes favorites such as "Papirossen," "Sha, Shtil," and "Moscow Nights" along with Strom's own music.
This is Strom's first vocal-intensive album, with all the singing done by Strom's wife, Elizabeth Schwartz, whose androgynous voice adds a dark dimension to most of the numbers but is generally well-suited to the material.
"Garden of Yidn" provides a sharp contrast to Strom's previous collection, "Tales Our Fathers Sang" (Global Village), a series of instrumentals, each inspired by a story from a Yiddish or American Jewish writer.
Our forebears may not actually have sung these tunes, but the music is lovely, and the CD shows off the talents of other players in Strom's bands, especially accordionist Peter Stan.
Veteran jazz clarinetist Abe Most brings six decades of life and virtuosity to his new CD, "I Love You Much Too Much" (Camard Records). Chapman University professor Allen Levy, who served as co-producer with Most, calls the CD "a labor of love," a jazz homage to tunes that were written in Yiddish but became hits in English.
Sixties pop singer Joanie Sommers, best known for the 1962 hit "Johnny Get Angry," provides vocals on two cuts in a clear, ageless voice that wraps itself around the material like a silk sarong. Equally fresh is Most's clarinet playing and that of the other soloists, which include Most's younger brother, Sam, a renowned jazz flutist.
The sound comes close at times to (extremely well-played) cocktail-lounge jazz lite, but whenever it does, one of the soloists checks in with a thread of melody or a percussive riff that puts a new label on what could have been a dusty bottle. It's easy listening in the most positive sense of the term.
Hatikvah Music recently released two vintage Yiddish albums for the first time on CD. "Rumania, Rumania: Yaffa Yarkoni Sings Yiddish," first released in 1961, pairs the wildly popular Israeli singer, who is still playing to sold-out houses in her 70's, with Johnny Mathis's arranger-conductor, Glenn Osser, for lush arrangements of Yiddish classics. Her smoky contralto carries the delight she brings to the concert stage.
A reissue of 1947's "Joe & Paul: The Best of the Barton Bros." is probably for a more specialized audience. The duo had its first success parodying a commercial for a New York clothier, a loud, rapid-fire affair reminiscent of a pidgin Yiddish Crazy Eddie or Mad Man Muntz. The CD -- whose comedy is unsubtle and definitely politically incorrect -- might work for a parent or grandparent who remembers the original material and can make sense of the rapid-fire Yinglish.
The recordings listed above are in stock at Hatikvah Music, 436 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles, www.hatikvahmusic.com, (323) 655-7083, except for "I Love You Much Too Much," available through Camard Records, 17030 Otsego St., Encino 91316, (818) 784-9642, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Yale Strom, Elizabeth Schwartz and Klazzj will perform two shows at The Workmen's Circle/Arbeter Ring, 1525 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles, on Sat., Dec. 30, 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. $16 (adults), $8 (17 and under). The shows are expected to sell out, so advance purchase is recommended. (310) 552-2007.