The Jewish Music Festival opened a four-night run at the Knitting Factory on Tuesday with a rousing set of tunes from Hollywood Klezmer. Although the group's glitzy name may have suggested otherwise, the program had a solidly traditional quality.
And that was just fine for the moderate-sized but highly enthusiastic crowd, who reacted in spirited fashion to numbers that embraced such pop-derived numbers as "And the Angels Sing" and "Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen." By the time the opening set reached its closing, a circle of dancers had filled the center of the main stage arena, spontaneously creating their versions of traditional dances.
In addition to its familiar items, Hollywood Klezmer added a few more unusual selections, including a self-described "Middle Eastern" piece, as well as numbers with Sephardic and Greek qualities. But for the most part, the five-piece ensemble steered clear of the sort of musical trailblazing by groups such as the Klezmatics and Brave Old World.
The ensemble's musical focus was largely determined by clarinetist Leo Chelyapov, who together with guitarist Jordan Charnofsky and bassist Larry Steen make up the core of Hollywood Klezmer, adding other musicians (in this case drums and accordion) as needed.
Chelyapov, a graduate of the Moscow College of Musical Arts, was an irrepressible force, his soaring clarinet taking the lead, as well as most of the improvised solos, in virtually every number.
A master of the subtle ornamentation of the klezmer style, he trimmed his lines with the musical sobs, sudden bits of clarinet laughter and quick grace notes that make the music such a free-ranging, passionate form of expression.
* The Jewish Music Festival continues at 9 tonight with the Rabbinical School Dropouts ($8 admission) and 9 p.m. Friday with RebbeSoul ($14 admission). Knitting Factory, 7201 Hollywood Blvd., L.A. (323) 463-0204.