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Klezmatics Doing Their Part for the Klezmer Renaissance : Pop music: The band joins forces with the L.A. Modern Dance and Ballet in hopes of spreading the word about the lively music originated by Jews.

August 11, 1995|STEVE HOCHMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

South African music has Paul Simon. Brazilian music has David Byrne. All sorts of world musics have Peter Gabriel.

Klezmer--the lively music originated by Jews in medieval Europe and carried on by 20th-Century U.S. immigrants--has as its star-power advocate . . . no one.

"Please discover us, someone," pleads Lorin Sklamberg, accordionist and singer for the New York-based ensemble the Klezmatics. "Recently k.d. lang said in an interview that she found out she's Jewish on her mother's side. So hey, k.d. lang can make an album with the Klezmatics, like Linda Ronstadt doing [Mexican songs]."

But even without a pop star endorsement, a klezmer renaissance is in full swing. Revitalized via the '70s roots-awareness movement and the past decade's world-music boom, klezmer has flowered in a spectrum of variations around the country--appropriate, given its history.

"Klezmer assimilated things from its surroundings," Sklamberg, 39, says of the music's migration around Europe and across the Atlantic. "Klezmer assimilated elements from Romania and Poland and Russia, and in the U.S. it picked up elements of swing and ragtime and ultimately some jazzy sorts of things."

The approach of the Klezmatics, which was founded in 1988, reflects the eclectic backgrounds of its six members, from Sklamberg's stint with L.A.'s Aman Folk Ensemble to trumpeter-keyboardist Frank London's work with movie scores and rapper LL Cool J.

The group, which recently released its third album, "Jews With Horns," is broadening its horizons Saturday by collaborating with the Los Angeles Modern Dance and Ballet in the premiere of "Klez-Mania" at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre. The music and dance work--which marks the Klezmatics' first L.A. performance--also features a segment with a libretto written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner.

The Klezmatics are also one of four klezmer acts participating in an upcoming album and PBS special on the music by Israeli-born violinist Itzhak Perlman.

The only thing that concerns Sklamberg about the current klezmer revival is that while such unlikely but creative variations as the New Orleans Klezmer Allstars help draw people in, they can leave the impression that klezmer is no more than musical Velcro.

"There's a tendency for a lot of people to say that klezmer music isn't specifically one thing or another," he says. "But the music really is very specific things, specific ornaments and phrasing and a repertoire based on specific tunes that make it very Jewish. That's one thing that stays constant, even in music that's been changed and composed in this country--it still maintains its Jewish element."

* "Klez-Mania," with the Klezmatics and the Los Angeles Modern Dance and Ballet, appears at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd., Saturday at 8 p.m. Tickets are $17 and $24. (213) 466-1767.

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