The Road to Europa: The Band

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Four out of Five KlezFactorites on the street in Prague.

The musicians among you out there understand the difficulty in putting together a band. Particularly when the musicians have to cross as many musical boundaries like those in KlezFactor do.

KlezFactor is a unique band that brings so many musical traditions together that it can be difficult to find a group of musicians who not only have the capabilities to play odd metres, tricky melodies, and unusual chord progressions but can also improvise in said odd metres and unusual chord progressions. KlezFactor has had some incredible musicians in the band over the years and every version of the band is a unique collaboration of influences and experiences, growing and changing to allow new members to find their voices within the overall “compositional matrix” of the project (that’s PhD talk for the tunes I wrote).

The original KlezFactor in Berlin, and a rather stoic looking dog

The original KlezFactor in Berlin, and a rather stoic looking dog. Photo: Manuel Miethe

Putting together the band in Berlin, I found musicians in different ways and it wasn’t a magical process. Not everyone I played with worked out. At first, the chemistry of the first version of the Berlin band wasn’t working up to the standards that I had established with the Toronto group. I had found a bass player and drummer through Toytown Germany, an online forum for foreigners living in Germany. The guitarist that I had met at a jam session in Berlin also wasn’t gelling with the vision of the band. It wasn’t that these were poor musicians. In fact, they were very good at what they did but it was clear that this type of cross-genre playing wasn’t their strength.

That version of KlezFactor was much different than what you hear today. Here’s a demo we did of “Freylekhs in Zibn” in the winter of 2012. There are actually many things that I like about this demo but I think you’d agree that this version of KlezFactor was skewing further into the rock realm and made the violin feel a out of place, which was one of the reasons why it wasn’t working for me.

Violinist Dea Szucs, whom I had met at a klezmer jam session, was working out just fine. A classical and contemporary music violinist, Dea was Hungarian and also had a background in Hungarian folk music with some dabbling in klezmer. For me (and KlezFactor), it was a perfect blend. With classical training, there was no fear that Dea could read and learn all of the charts and with her folk music background, she understood the feel that I was going for.

It was around March 2012 that I had met Florian von Frieling, a guitarist who impressed me at a jam session at B-flat in Berlin. Florian is from Hannover but studied jazz in Rotterdam, Netherlands. What really struck me about Flo was his listening. Many players who go to a jam session go to play. And be heard. And show off their stuff. Not Flo. Flo was listening and responding to what other jam session players were doing. Trust me, that’s rare. Flo has other projects I was back in “find musicians” mode and I signed him up.

I left Berlin for a few weeks in April of 2012 to come home to Toronto and meet with my dissertation committee. While I was away, I emailed Peter van Huffel. Peter was a friend of original KlezFactor member Ali Berkok, with whom I attended Queens’ University’s School of Music, who was living in Berlin and playing music. I asked Peter for a couple of recommendations for bass and drums. He gave me the names of several players including Alex Bayer (bass), Finlay Panter (drums) and Daniel Praetzlich (drums).

Daniel became our first-call drummer (mostly because I contacted him first and he was interested!) and Alex became our bass player. The “fit” was immediate and apparent that we had found the core of the rhythm section for the band. Alex comes from a similar sensibility to mine. He is constantly looking for ways to adapt classical technique to other genres and is always looking to master his instrument. He also has a project that I would describe in a similar manner to KlezFactor, albeit a little more acoustically. Alex’s group Pentelho blends South American music and rhythms with jazz, much in the way that John Zorn’s Masada does with Jewish music.

Daniel’s music takes him all over the musical map but his contemporary improvisational aesthetic allowed us to play in small venues without being too loud (and being able to hear the violin, which is always a concern), playing with a sensitivity and groove that really brought the band together.

Finlay Panter joined us in Bayreuth for a show there in July of 2012. Finlay, who hails from Liverpool, is another player to whom Peter van Huffel introduced me. Playing a lot of contemporary jazz, Fin fit right in with the band, even if he didn’t realize at first that the show in Bayreuth was actually in another part of Germany (he had thought that it was in a club called “Beirut”).

Here’s KlezFactor playing Shakespeare and Sons bookstore in Berlin on September 6, 2012:

Stay tuned for the next chapter of the story: Getting the Band Back Together

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