The Red Hot Chachkas' first CD Family Album (2002) received enthusiastic reviews and sold like hot latkes. There are only a few copies left!
~ Julie Egger, Founder of RHC
In the summer of 1998, at KlezKamp West, I rediscovered the music of my childhood, Klezmer music. For the first time in my musical career I felt like I had come home, uniting my two passions: Judaism and music. As I became familiar and involved with these melodies, I felt the music and its soulful roots become part of me. I learned tunes and studied with musicians such as Deborah Strauss, Alicia Svigals, and Stuart Brotman, and discovered my spiritual self and musical abilities merging into one.
Out of this union came theRed Hot Chachkas, a band of fellow musicians who are truly moved by the sounds of the Klezmer melodies. We continue to find musical inspirations that come from our souls. Whether we play for a wedding, festival, or rehearsal, our best music comes from within. This CD is a continuation of that process.
#1 World Music recording, KUSF-FM 90.3 "Top Spins" (March 2003)
When I listen to California Klezmer music, I also listen for echoes of bluegrass and other American music. In this wonderfully realized first album by long-time Marin-county klezmorim, "the Red-Hot Chachkas," I am rewarded and blessed with just what I wanted to hear: exquisitely-rendered traditional klezmer, with that hint of bluegrass and even, on "Shtetl Swing" and Leon Ahl's Doina, a bit of California jam band and ensemble improvisation. The result is a mechaye, a delight.
What bands such as the Red-Hot Chachkas illustrate is that klezmer is a living tradition. The ability to record largely from the usual klezmer and Yiddish folk repertoire, and to make the album sound fresh and interesting, is not so common. New compositions by band members Eggers and Phillips are both "of the tradition" and extensions of the tradition. The appearance of "Avinu Malkenu", the haunting Yom Kippur melody that has become part of the entertainment repertoire of bands from Bessarabia to Australia to California also demonstrates how the repertoire of the modern klezmer includes not just the official klezmer dance numbers, but draws from all Jewish traditions, new and old.
I have only a couple of production quibbles. First, the rhythm is sometimes too regular and too pronounced. I know that sounds weird, but klezmer, like all good dance music, should flow less like a metronome and more like, well, people! This becomes especially notable in the delicate "Araber tantz," where the freedom for the improvisation comes only with some ability for the band to stay consistent, or on the "Boyberiker Mazeltov Hora," where the original recording's militarily-precise time dominates this new recording, as well. The trick is to let that beat be a bit less prominent (and, to slide a bit, at times), so that the improvisation can soar without having to worry about dancer's feet still finding their way. The other quibble is that it is always nice to have more detail on sources. It is true that anyone who has been to KlezKamp knows "Firn di mechutonim aheym" (accompanying the in-laws home) or "A nakht in gan eydn" (a night in the garden of Eden), but it would be nice to document the source for "Levin hora" or "Leon Ahl's doina" so that those who are inspired by the recordings can also follow backwards.
Those are minor points. I hope that people beyond the Red-Hot Chachka's local audience hear this CD. It is the best of all "Family Album"s, one that shows that the family is alive and celebrating together.
~ Ari Davidowitz, KlezmerShack © 2003
This is an exciting first release from a six-person band that's been playing the California klezmer circuit since 1997. The Red-Hot Chachkas bring a fresh feel to traditional selections such as "Romanian Fantasy" through their classical, swing and bluegrass influences. And the new compositions on this 14-track CD, such as "Shtetl Swing," are welcome additions to the repertoire.
~ Naomi Geschwind, Hadassah Magazine © April 2003
The sound of Old World and New interweave subtly and with grace on Family Album, the debut CD by The Red Hot Chachkas Northern California instrumental klezmer group. On the Family Album, classics like Naftule Brandwein's "Firn di Mechutonim Aheym," are taken into modern jazz territory through improvisations by clarinetist Paul Alexander and violinist/bandleader Julie Egger, pushed along by klezmer great Stuart Brotman's swinging bass lines, while remaining grounded in the music's Ashkenazic foundation.
The musicians evidence a strong command of klezmer fundamentals in traditional dance numbers like "Kolomeyke," but they also exert their creative muscles in several original compositions by Egger and mandolinist Tony Phillips. The group gets particularly soulful with a waltz-ified version of "Avinu Malkenu," and Egger's "Shtetl Swing" has a haunting, Gypsy tango pulse. Playing of this caliber is rarely found on independent efforts such as this one; Egger and Alexander in particular make a terrific violin-clarinet pairing in the tradition of former Klezmatics Alicia Svigals and David Krakauer.
~ Seth Rogovoy, Berkshire Jewish Voice © Oct. 24, 2002; Sing Out! (47:1, pp.129-130) © Spring 2003
While the unschooled may view klezmer as merely a delightful relic of the shtetl, true-blue fans understand the music's enduring vitality. The best of contemporary klezmer bands not only honor the past, but move the genre forward with an amalgam of innovation and passion.
Among the most visionary of klezmorim is the Bay Area's own Red Hot Chachkas, who just released a new CD, "Family Album," on their own, independently distributed label. Blending classic tunes and spirited originals, the Red Hot Chachkas inject their music with a smoldering sensuality, making "Family Album" a red-hot joy from start to finish.
While a pronounced Eastern European/Yiddish inflection dominates most klezmer, the music actually carries traces of every tradition absorbed by Jews during the course of the diaspora. The Red Hot Chachkas celebrate that diversity, drawing on Yemenite, Balkan and even modern jazz elements here and there throughout "Family Album."
Like snowflakes, no two klezmer bands are alike, especially when it comes to instrumentation. Unlike the countless clarinet-centric bands that crowd the field, The Red Hot Chachkas place Julie Egger's uniformly brilliant fiddle work right up front, although clarinetist Paul Alexander does make his commanding presence felt many tunes. On tracks like "Sarah's Bulgar" and "Araber Tanz," Egger and Alexander play off each other with skillful ease, engaging in a wholly satisfying musical dialogue.
Mandolinist Tony Phillips performs on a variety of instruments from the mandolin family, greatly broadening the band's scope, while drummer Michael Arrow switches effortlessly from standard kit to evocative dumbek on the more Middle Eastern-flavored tracks. Accordionist Laurie Lippin and bassist Stuart Brotman round out the line-up, providing a sturdy foundation for each of the album's 14 songs.
Stately processionals like "Firn di Mechutonim Aheym" and "Levin Hora" simmer with fiery conviction, while Phillips' mandolin work turns the familiar High Holy Day prayer "Avinu Malkeinu" into a sultry, even sexy, waltz. Middle Eastern influences abound on "Family Album," especially on the fabulous "Shtetl Swing," a runaway train of syncopated dumbek-driven rhythms.
The frenetic quality of "A Nakht In Gan Eyden," "Dulitski's Skochne," and the Zorba-esqe "Kolomeyke" serve as counterpoint for more down-tempo tracks like the wistful "Romanian Fantasy" and "Boyberiker Mazeltov Hora," the latter reminiscent of a New Orleans funeral march.
Perhaps most striking of all is "Wedding Sher," a traditional tune that starts off as a tender fiddle-mandolin duet before morphing into a full-frontal be-bop jam worthy of Dave Brubeck. Purists might question whether it's OK to go in this radical direction. The fact that the Red Hot Chachkas gleefully take chances underscores the vigor of contemporary klezmer music.
Egger, who founded Red Hot Chachkas in 1998, expresses in the album's liner notes her hope that the band's audience would "become addicted to these melodies and our collective sound, adding our voice to the contagious pulse of the klezmer revival." Given the remarkable artistry and unalloyed love of traditional Jewish music so evident on "Family Album," it's unlikely that any listener could help but be swept up in that revival.
~ Dan Pine, Jewish Bulletin of Northern California © Dec. 20, 2002
© 2002, San Francisco Jewish Community Publications Inc., dba Jewish Bulletin of Northern California. All rights reserved. This material may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
First album by a West Coast-based klezmer band, playing in what seems at first to be a fairly traditional vein. Then clarinetist Paul Alexander starts to play way 'outside,' and the Chachkas start stretching and twisting tempos and in a very subtle way all hell breaks loose. Innovative and unexpected, passionate and witty. Who said klezmer was dead? AAAAA
~ George Robinson, The Jewish Week (of New York) © Sept. 13, 2002