Adrienne Cooper & Zalmen Mlotek
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First, it must be said that this writer has never heard anything like this in over 25 years of writing about music. The context of this recording is in and of itself remarkable: The music performed consists of the songs of the Yiddish theaters and cabarets that continued to exist — and, according to the notes in this package, thrive — at the height of the Nazi terror in the ghettos of Poland and Lithuania and immediately after. What's more amazing is that these tunes were actually written during that era of horror and terror. Traditional Crossroads, with their now-trademark excellence in research and presentation of world music, present a record that defies virtually every world music standard in the marketplace. Vocalist Adrienne Cooper and pianist Zalmen Mlotek offer songs produced out of the need for relief, the need for comfort, the need for transcending a nightmare. What's even more amazing about this recording is how it displays the hybridization that was taking place in Yiddish music in the face of historical events: Here, liturgical music is in the same tune bumped up against cabaret music, and in many cases, traditional folk and political tunes are veined through a particularly Yiddish brand of American ragtime and early jazz. Show tunes often encompass all three and add klezmer and opera! That these songs survived is a wonder in and of itself, but the performances here are given with such wonderful grandiosity and emotional honesty that their modern setting is that much more relevant. The performances are what make these songs live, and Cooper and Mlotek have given a rare and precious, if memorially terrible, gift.