Once you get past the brutal PhotoShop of band members' heads on candy dispensers (a pun New Jersey's Klez Dispensers mined 10 years ago), the music of Eastern Watershed brings nothing but joy. Rather than just the classic Jewish-music genre, Eastern Watershed revels in the connections to Eastern European cultures from which much of Pittsburgh's population originates, transporting the listener instantly to the dance floor of a local ethnic social hall.
Klez Dispensers provides an appropriate mix between uptempo numbers from any Jewish wedding party ("Bukoviner Freylekh" and the "Sammy's Dance Party" medley, including the Israeli circle dance "Od Lo Ahavti Dai"), stirring in the energy of polka and brass band, and the slower, emotive step-dances. There's also a great rendition of the odd-metered "Fire Dance," leaning in a gypsy/Turkish direction, and a chestnut strictly for your grandmother: "Raisins and Almonds" (sans the well-known Yiddish lyrics). The ensemble displays Spike Jones-ish, whizz-bang humor with the closer "Play It Again, Dave," by legendary clarinetist Dave Tarras.
Tuba player Phil Van Ouse and drummer Ronald Heid are classically trained, as is clarinetist Janice Coppola, veteran of the Hot Matzohs, with an instinctive feel for the klezmer idiom. But accordionist Lynette Garlan is their ace in the hole, with her lore in folk dance and Eastern European culture, and membership in local Balkan, gypsy and belly-dance ensembles; Garlan also sings in Romani on the track "Mig Mi."
Given the incredible current popularity of klezmer music in Germany and Eastern Europe -- non-Jewish crowds overseas have no problem connecting the dots -- Garlan and Eastern Watershed hope American audiences can be knit in one pan-cultural fabric, one which no longer "Balkanizes" people into change-resistant ethnic enclaves. With enough exposure to a diverse array of communities, this CD could help them accomplish that goal.
Eastern Watershed Quartet play the dedication ceremony of the Amy Brean Scholarship Fund. 11:30 a.m. Thu., Nov. 19. CCAC North Campus atrium, 8701 Perry Hwy., McCandless. 412-369-3697