Naftule's Dream | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Naftule's Dream 

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NAFTULE'S DREAM

Naming your band after a musical genius, in this case pioneering American klezmer clarinetist Naftule Brandwein, is asking for belittlement. But Naftule's Dream--and in particular Glenn Dickson, the group's own licorice-stick whiz, and David Harris, its double-jointed trombonist--have the chops to warrant the moniker. The Boston-based sextet has already infiltrated New York's trendy nouveau-klez scene--it's signed to John Zorn's Tzadik label, and has two releases in the imprint's Radical Jewish Culture series and a couple tracks on Knitting Factory's recent Klezmer Festival 1998 compilation. And although the mix Bill Laswell turned in for its last album, Smash, Clap! (1998), overemphasizes the group's rock leanings--too much bass-drum thumping, too much electric-guitar skronk--there's no denying the fleet execution or the quality of the original compositions. The group clearly understands klezmer tradition, but uses it as a guide rather than as a rulebook. Between Pete Fitzpatrick's acidic guitar patterns and John Manning's liquid tuba bass lines, Naftule's Dream occasionally recalls the percolating fantasia of Henry Threadgill's Very Very Circus, stirring in bits of other Eastern European folk styles, art rock, and free jazz and showing off a charged polyphony worthy of Charles Mingus. But the real treat is when Dickson and Harris simply cut loose, the former dotting his melancholy sobs with delirious loop-de-loops and the latter slingshotting earthy growls into high-pitched multiphonic cries. The members of Naftule's Dream, including drummer Eric Rosenthal and pianist and accordion player Michael McLaughlin, sometimes perform together as a different band, Shirim, which delivers a considerably more conventional klezmer sound--no amplification, and Fitzpatrick plays banjo instead of guitar. Last year Shirim adapted a number of classical pieces, including the Nutcracker Suite, on Klezmer Nutcracker (Newport Classics), and though titles like "Dance of the Latkes Queens" put a goofy face on it, the record highlights some fascinating connections between the work of Tchaikovsky, Satie, Chopin, Brahms, and Mahler and the folk material they drew on. Naftule's Dream plays Tuesday at 8 PM at Schubas, 3159 N. Southport; 773-525-2508. Shirim performs its version of the Tchaikovsky in a holiday concert Wednesday at 7 PM in Preston Bradley Hall, Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington; 312-744-7094. Peter Margasak

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