Taste of KlezMex

In spite of thunder, lightning, pouring rain and occasional gusts of unchecked sentimentalism, the Viva Klezmer-L’Khayim Mariachi concert at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre on Sunday, July 11, was a high-energy, crowd-pleaser that mostly delivered on its promise to explore the intersection of the two forms.

Staged as an unlikely battle-of-the-bands, with Mariachi Sol de America de Juan José Almaguer arranged neatly on the left, and Barry Fisher’s Ellis Island and Friends Klezmer band in casual disarray on the right, the concert was a back-and-forth tennis game of related tunes. It began with a smoldering doyna spotlighting virtuosic improvisation from clarinetist Zinovy Goro, which led into the Sol de America performance of Jesus y Los Angeles, followed closely by “And the Angels Sing” performed by Ellis Island.

The show was at its best during the combined group numbers that meshed both styles like the “Que Viva Zacatecas March” and the Spanish Civil War song, “Traige Mi Cuarenta Cinco” (Bring Me My .45) with Violinist/Singer Aaron Shiffrin clowning his way through Spanish and Yiddish lyrics, while Mariachi Adam Ramirez clowned back from the opposite end. Other high points included Oudist Jon Bilezekjian performing a pair of flamenco-inflected Sephardic songs of intricate beauty that held the audience spellbound.

In contrast, both bands were guilty of schmaltz (or I suppose that would be “lard” from the Mariachis) and occasional bits of cheap sentimentalism that stopped just short of embarrassing. Luckily, that wasn’t the only common ground between the two styles, and the concert always bounced back with the renewed energy of this improbable combination, closing with a rendition of “La Bamba” that showcased strong instrumental solos from both sides of the stage.