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Coming up: Joel Rubin and Uri Caine give klezmer a forward twist at the Music Gallery

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Joel Rubin and Uri Caine perform together at the Music Gallery on Saturday.
Clarinetist Joel Rubin and keyboard player Uri Caine perform together at the Music Gallery on Saturday.

David Dacks, artistic director of Toronto’s Music Gallery, describes how he and his venue connected with modern masters of klezmer for a concert this coming weekend:

This Saturday sees one of my most anticipated shows of the season become reality at the Music Gallery.

I was excited to book clarinetist Joel Rubin and keyboardist Uri Caine because the show exemplifies so much of what I wanted to do in my first year of programming at the Music Gallery: Present intimate music that maximizes our beautiful space, bring in new forms of creative music which extend the Music Gallery’s 36-year heritage, and work with partners where each party steps out of their comfort zone to reach for something greater.

As a bit of background, I must admit that I didn’t grow up with any great love for klezmer. My parents came out of folk and jazz backgrounds and during the ’70s when I was a kid, klezmer may have been at its lowest ebb in popularity. For many, it was considered an unpleasant reminder of the Old World that North American Jews were trying to move on from.

Personally, I remember always finding the music both corny and schmaltzy. But then the klezmer revival took hold with David Krakauer and others (shout out to Toronto’s Flying Bulgars) digging deep into the roots and drawing new pictures with the many, many ingredients and subtleties of the music.

Rubin is widely credited for either pushing the movement along with his own art and by educating others – his day job is teaching at the University of Virginia.

It was through the efforts of the Knitting Factory and Tzadik record labels that I finally connected with the klezmer renaissance by way of my love for avant garde jazz. It turns out that those liquid lightning solos match up incredibly well with freer elements.

That’s where Caine comes in.

He told Offerings magazine last month (if you are not familiar with Toronto’s zine dedicated to deep listening, pick one up at select downtown locations) that he hadn’t thought much about klezmer either until he started playing with Don Byron, who should also be mentioned as an important figure in modern klezmer.

Rubin and Caine recorded Azoy Tsu Tsveyt for Tzadik a couple of years ago and the pairing brings out the best of both of them.

When asked to describe the record I usually say, “it’s like (Miles Davis’) In A Silent Way, klezmer style.” There is a coolness about it thanks to Caine’s electric piano which has the effect of throwing Rubin’s solos into a starker, more open-ended context.

It’s as though suddenly it’s possible to hear more of the ornamentation, freewheeling phrasing and nuance in the clarinet’s buttery tone than ever. Plus, Rubin just seems to be digging even deeper than usual to come up with his brilliant melodies. Check out “The Pianist”:

I like to hear small ensembles or solo shows at the Music Gallery. The venue’s angled ceiling reflects certain kinds of acoustic sounds back to the audience in very flattering ways. Technical director Paul Hodge knows how to underline the sound without overwhelming the source (of course, for louder shows he adjusts accordingly).  So I knew that sonically this would be an excellent match between artist and venue.

The Music Gallery hasn’t exactly been renowned for its klezmer shows over the years, so this offered an opportunity to partner with the Ashkenaz Foundation, whom I’ve long admired for their eclectic bi-annual festival at Harbourfront.

Like the Music Gallery, Ashkenaz’ mandate also values cross-pollination of genres and audiences. In working with their artistic director Eric Stein over the past year, we hoped that Ashkenaz could reach a klezmer-loving audience (not necessarily the same as “a Jewish audience,” as illustrated with the example of my own personal history with the music) and in return the Music Gallery could draw on its audience of lovers of innovative forms of music to create a wonderfully mixed up audience.

This would be an adventure for both of us. We collaborated on the chamber-folk group Veretski Pass during their festival last year.  This is round 2.

All these elements will come together for a special night – in a church, no less! Musical Toronto often analyzes the many ways in which presenters try to appeal to audiences.

This story, like many at the Music Gallery this year, plays up the experimental and challenging aspects of a concert to appeal to those who seek adventure in their musical diet. We court active listeners, regardless of age, cultural background, or geographical location in the GTA. What we offer is a unique environment in which to enjoy the best music you’ve never heard.

David Dacks

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