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Naftule's Dream Returns, With A Fleshy, Folkie New Album


This is FRESH AIR. After a long absence, the klezmer fusion band Naftule's Dream has returned with a new album called "Blood." Music critic Milo Miles has a review.


MILO MILES: It's easy to forget that 20 years ago the band Naftule's Dream were quite the innovators. The once Moorabbin Jewish folk style called klezmer had revived several years earlier. The clarinetist and songwriter Glenn Dickson saw that the modernization was far from complete. Together with songwriter and accordionist Michael McLaughlin, Dickson formed the boundary-busting adventure called Naftule's Dream.

Klezmer fusion had historic precedent too, often mixing in swing jazz in the 1930s. Naftule's Dream went all the way into free jazz, rock and funk and various international modes on a series of albums in the late 1990s and early 2000s. But "Blood" is the first new release from them since 2002. It begins with a fun and friendly number by McLaughlin called "Sitting In Some Train Watching The Tuscan Landscape Go Speeding Backward."


MILES: Besides Dickson and McLaughlin, the current lineup of Naftule's Dream features drummer Eric Rosenthal, tuba player Jim Gray, cornetist Gary Bohan, who has played with the band for a long time but debuts on record here, and newcomer guitarist Andrew Stern. What has not changed is the band's unusually clear reasoning as fusion creators.

A common mistake with fusion groups is to run through music styles and hope everything holds together. The way Naftule's Dream structures numbers, the comparison is not so much shifting gears as following the curves of a stream or the disturbing twists of a fable, such as the slightly ominous title tune, Dickson's "Blood," which takes off from a story by IB Singer.


MILES: Showing the writers are keeping up with the times, an innovative romp on "Blood" is McLaughlin's "Calabria," which I swear is a Naftule Dream take on ambient electronica.


MILES: My favorite number of all is "Boss Shabbos," which begins with a long passage inspired by Romanian tunes and featuring Jim Gray's tuba as the lead. As a one-time tuba player myself, I'm very touched. Gray does a fine job of exploring the vocal qualities of the horn's deep tones, brushing aside the usual oom-pah stiffness.


MILES: Later in the piece, Gary Bohan maintains the fleshy and folky tone even as "Boss Shabbos" finishes with a free jazz section. While "Blood" is overall a bit more introspective than earlier releases, the warmth and the cohesive ideas of Naftule's Dream are very much as rich as ever. Don't stay away so long next time, guys.

GROSS: Milo Miles reviewed the new album "Blood" by the klezmer fusion band Naftule's Dream. Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, we talk about covering the war in Syria without being able to enter the country. My guest will be Anne Barnard, The New York Times Beirut bureau chief, and journalist and Middle East expert Thanassis Cambanis. Barnard and Cambanis fell in love and got married while they were covering the war in Iraq. They're now living in Beirut with their two children. I hope you'll join us.


GROSS: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Anne Marie Baldonado, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden and Theat Chaloner. John Sheehan directed today's show. I'm Terry Gross. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Milo Miles is Fresh Air's world-music and American-roots music critic. He is a former music editor of The Boston Phoenix.
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