You can call it chamber klez.
A trio of clarinet, accordion and acoustic bass with a few vocals added on doesn’t sound like a particularly offbeat constellation for a klezmer group. But when you hear the Yiddish Art Trio’s self-titled first CD, the sound is different from any klezmer you’ve heard.
With its astute blend of harmonically complex contemporary chamber music, klezmer colors and rhythms and a certain underlying folk aesthetic, the band is both more cerebral and yet earthier than similar configurations; the result is exhilarating and thoughtful.
The band — Michael Winograd on reeds, Patrick Farrell on accordion, Benjy Fox-Rosen on bass and vocals — has been together for “about five years,” Winograd said in a Skype interview last week. In that time, it has evolved from a vehicle for Winograd’s unique take on Jewish improvisational popular music into a collective, a three-headed creative juggernaut.
“I heard a sound but I hadn’t figured out how to get it,” Winograd said, rocking eagerly forward in his chair, his full brown beard fluttering with his movements. “That sound ended up being my last album, ‘Storm Game,’ which came out in December 2012.”
That album utilized not only the trio but guest artists like jazz pianist Anat Fort, klezmer fiddler Deborah Strauss, singer Judith Berkson and percussionists Stuart Berkson and Richie Barshay. But it also became a stepping-off point for the threesome’s explorations.
“We became much less of ‘Michael Winograd and his project’ and more three people trying to figure out a sound together,” he said. “It became a collective, this place where we’ve found a space to write in this way. It’s hard to put a finger on what it is but we figured it out together. I’m not sure I can verbalize it better but we all know what’s happened.”
To launch the new CD, the trio is playing the Museum at Eldridge Street (12 Eldridge St.) on Sunday, Dec. 21, 7 p.m. (eldridgestreet.org).
The best way to understand what Winograd was trying to say will be going to hear them play.
Unfortunately, opportunities to do so are going to be thin on the ground for the foreseeable future, since Fox-Rosen is currently based in Europe, where he is going to be working for the next few years. It’s a less-than-ideal situation for the band but, as Winograd noted ruefully, an excellent one for their bass player.
“There are a lot of good reasons to move to Europe right now,” the clarinetist said. “As a klezmer musician there are even more reasons. It’s a pretty decent place to play.”
The unstated implication, one that’s supported by many European-based Jewish musicians, is that klezmer gets a more serious hearing and a lot more respect in Europe — particularly Germany and Poland — than in the United States or Israel.
In the meantime, Winograd, Farrell and Fox-Rosen have made adjustments to compensate for the distances separating them.
Winograd explained, “We work a lot in the times we’re together. But some of the music [on the record] we hadn’t played as a group until a week before the recording. It worked out well, but it didn’t have as much time to grow into something ‘collective.’ There’s definitely some individualism on the record — I can hear ‘Michael moments’ and ‘Patrick moments’ and ‘Benjy moments.’ The differences are nice. It makes the music more interesting and you get a bigger palette.”
And having to work in concentrated periods has its advantages, too, he concluded. “We all have lots of other stuff going on [musically]. This focuses us.”