The International Jewish Music Festival (or, as the Dutch call it, the Joods Muziek Festival) takes place across Holland every October. This past year, I was fortunate to attend, and I caught a stand-out performance in the city of Utrecht, at the Merkaz Cultural Center, by the French klezmer ensemble Vent D’Ouest. Merkaz was an interesting destination in itself: it was a Jewish orphanage before World War II. Representing the liberal Jewish community of Utrecht, the Merkaz Foundation was lucky to snag one of the few local buildings that had any Jewish history.
A quartet of French talents, Vent D’Ouest has an unusual make-up for a klezmer group. The band features clarinet and accordion, as expected, but then there’s the unlikely addition of two guitars. Together the four members, all natural showmen, performed a lively set, clever in how they urged the audience to snap and clap along.
In the end, it is their playing that really counts, and the band’s musicianship is solid. What Vent D’Ouest offers is far from the standard wedding schtick, managing to bring in a strong jazz vibe from the clarinet and weaving snippets of popular tunes, like the Mission: Impossible theme, into more standard melodies. I doubt anyone else is playing a mix of “Hava Nagila” and “Bamboleo” (which, given klezmer’s links to the Balkans, is not so far-fetched as it might sound at first).
I’m hoping that Vent D’Ouest will tour the US soon and we’ll all have the chance to enjoy them at the Skirball someday. In the meantime, don’t let 2012 go by without checking out their music.