London Klezmer Quartet

Blue Mountains Theatre, February 17


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London Klezmer Quartet. Photo supplied.

It’s taken a while, but it is happening. Five years after the London Klezmer Quartet annexed Indra Buraczewska – then of Melbourne, now of Latvia – as a bassist and discovered that the band had acquired a singer at no extra cost, her vocal marvels are finally being exploited more fully. It’s still not nearly enough, mind you, because her contralto remains the LKQ’s crowning glory, but she’s gone from singing the occasional song to singing about 40 percent of the repertoire.

Meanwhile the band itself has continued to develop. Violinist Ilana Cravitz, clarinettist Susi Evans, accordionist Carol Isaacs and Buraczewska (in her bass-playing capacity) have all grown as players, and the ensemble is more cohesive, energised and entertaining. Evan’s tone has become immeasurably richer – a sound that might emanate from a hollow tree-trunk – and her swooping glissandi and other embellishments of this Easter European Jewish idiom are now fully convincing. Meanwhile Cravitz and the always incisive Isaacs have boosted the passion quotient against their precision, and Buraczewska’s bass playing boasted increased accuracy and propulsion.

Buraczewska’s contralto could drip with pathos on a lament, and yet on several other songs, including the gorgeous Feygele, a gripping dichotomy was in play between her voice’s heaviness and an underlying quality that was light and dancing. She also penned one of the most beguiling original tunes in Dunika Waltz. When she sang the traditional Bulbes (Potatoes) it made me think that in the Trump era they should consider the alternative version: Nothing, Tuli Kupferberg’s ultimate nihilist anthem for the Fugs.

On the haunting Shnirele Perele all four members sang, and the pretty harmonies begged the question of why they don’t exploit this option further. They are, however, now milking more tears from the sad songs than they used to, and infusing the dance tunes with a greater air of abandon. At the moment others still extract more anguish and excitement from klezmer, but at this rate of improvement the truth of that statement may start to crumble.