AUSTIN, TX- The Paramount Theatre, a mere few blocks from the state capitol, jumped with the sounds of Eastern European Jewry on December 5. Part of the performing arts series featured four Jewish music acts: Kinky Friedman (sans his "Texas jewboys"), Houston's Janice Rubin, Austins' own Rubinchik's Orkestyr and Cantor Neil Blumofe.
Blumofe, the Chazzan (cantor) of the Agudas Achim congregation kicked off the evening with "Ahavti". In his second tune, he encouraged the audience to "drone" along with him, creating interesting tonal textures through the over 1000 audience members. His final tune incorporated some jazz "blue notes" in addition to the usual hassidic cantorial scales. Great stuff which the audience really enjoyed.
Rubinchik's Orkestyr is named after the leader of the group, tuba and bass player Mark Rubin. The group started out in full tilt with Der Heyser Bulgar (or HOT bulgar). This tune comes from the repertoire of the great klezmer clarinetist Naftule Brandwein. Brandwein, an iconoclastic first generation player in America has been a main inspiration for modern klezmorim. They also played the Moldavian Hora (this hora is the "crooked" waltz of Eastern Europe, not the Israeli dance) and a piece known simply as #77 (from a book of tunes that were simply numbered, a common practice of the Eastern European Klezmorim). This tight ensemble closed with a sing along to "Ale Brider" (we are all brothers), the Jewish Unionist song of the 1930's that has become a popular finisher on the heels of Ithzak Perlman's group's triumph at Carnegie Hall. The Rubinchiks can be heard on their debut CD: Flipnotics Freilachs , named after the Flipnotics Coffespace where they have gig every Wednesday in Austin.
Houston's Janice Rubin was, for me, the most entertaining performer of the evening. Janice sang Yiddish folksongs, and added some "equivalent" English lyrics at times after finding out that a minority of the audience spoke Yiddish. Janice started out with the rhythmic "Chiribim" and featured several other songs from her "Feels Like Family" CD on Heymish records, including Cum Aher di Filosoph, which she described as a humanist's mocking of the Hassidim's belief in an all powerful Rabbi. Nevertheless, she partially viewed it as a sincere tribute to the powers of a Rabbi. Rubin's enthusiasm is effusive, and infectious. Even those who knew very little Yiddish were captivated by her charm and energy, and the audience was constantly clapping and urging her on. The hopeful Zol Zayn Kumen Di Geule (Let the Redemption Come) ended her set. It's fascinating to compare her version to the more contemplative one by Adrienne Cooper (Dreamin in Yiddish) and the more rhythmic rock inflected version of Wolf Krakowski (Transmigrations, on Kamea Media).
Kinky Friedman capped the show of with his crass, yet perceptive country music that has made him famous. After reading from a book of his observations on childhood and adulthood, Kinky asked the audience to choose between his two biggest hits and when no clear decision was reached then true to form he simply chose "They Ain't Making Jews Like Jesus Anymore" with a wonderfully spoken, yet slightly self deprecating introduction. The Kinkster then graciously performed the second choice: his introspective "Ride em Jewboy". Some of Kinky's great songs can be heard on his tribute CD: Pearls in the Snow, on Kinkajou records
With the night apparently ending, the Rubinchik's Orkestyr spilled onto Congress Street, and jammed to the great delight of those remaining, many who couldn't help but dance the Freilach with them. Amongst other tunes, they rampaged through Tarras' "Trip to Amerika" and reminded us of what a wonderful trip we had just taken in the heart of Texas.