WorldClass 1997, 11303-2
Since its Swiss inception in 1986, the Klezmer/Jazz formation formerly known as Kol Simcha -- now The World Quintet -- frontlines clarinet and flute as melody makers and backs them up with piano, bass and drums. Playing Carnegie Hall as well as illustrious Jazz, Classical and WorldMusic Festivals on three continents besides, as their artist agency has it, "collaborating with prestigious European theatre, dance and movie productions", I should perhaps feel a bit sheepish for introducing, as our first 2003 release, a 6-year old album (naturally still in print) by a group not even performing under the same name anymore.

But - better late than never is what my spin doctor advised me to call it instead. So there - no more sheepiness. Baa, baa.

Not sounds you'll hear on the aptly titled Klezmer Soul, anyway. Its lugubrious performances of instrumental ballads focus not on the high-spirited free-wheeling party elements of Jewish wedding music that the more racous Klezmer is commonly associated with. Nor do we suffer the Jazz-flavored "talking clarinet" cat-in-heat circus antics epitomized by Argentine-born Giora Feidman. No, Klezmer Soul goes after the mournful minor-key essence of Yiddish melody in a distinctly neo-classical chamber music vein, the way the memorable soundtrack to Schindler's List did on a symphonic scale since it had to compete with Spielberg's gripping visuals.

This makes clarinetist Michael Heitzler Kol Simcha's chief raconteur on Klezmer Soul. Obvious classical conservatory training results in flawless embouchure and pianissimo-squared control delivered in pure cantilena fashion. His carefully applied vibrato adjusts in intensity from barely perpectiple to highly pressurized while his beautiful tone favors rubicund woodiness over the kind of thinner, more aqueous nasal reediness that occasionally plagues Richard Stolzman's similar Lite Jazz/New Age efforts.

From duets with piano to trading places with Niki Reiser's flute in the full ensemble context, to two tracks with full symphonic backing compliments of the Sinfonietta de Lausanne, Klezmer Soul's poignant simplicity and down-tempo ruefulness point unapologetically at that place in your chest - matured and seasoned, sensitive to the essentials, oblivious to showmanship, comfortable with the notion that the greatest depths are often accompanied by a tinge of sadness and melancholia.

And whittled away to the core, to that which is hardest and thus withstands the ravages of time - such are the tunes on Klezmer Soul: Antiquity meets respectfully measured, concertized modern interpretations. You hear the sighs of generations, its stern lessons, distilled suffering and redemption. Above all, you're captived by a grande capacity for feeling Weltschmerz, "global pain", a kind of expansive, tweaked sentiment impersonal in scope and personal in compassionate attribute. Think of Klezmer Soul then as a distillation of said spirit, offered up in a goblet of superior production values and impeccable sonics as we've come to expect from Hearts of Space's WorldClass subsidiary.

To hail Klezmer Soul's liquor with "Cheers" is too lighthearted and superficial a gesture. More apt is to savor it without a toast and let the sheer weight of emotions and memories carry you away silently. Highly recommended - if you like clarinet.