The Klez returns to Upstairs Lounge at Oak Bay Recreation Centre Friday night, bringing its rhythmical klezmer music, ballads and traditional Hebrew, Yiddish and Ladino songs.
“(It’s) the celebratory music of Jewish community,” said Alex Olson, who inspired the name change from The Klez Galz to simply The Klez when he joined a couple of years ago.
Alongside Olson, The Klez includes his wife, Martina Peladeau, Barbara Pedrick, Lucila Nerenberg and Kate Rhodes.
Klezmer music includes the haunting qualities of Jewish, Balkan, Turkish, Eastern European, Greek and Gypsy music.
“It’s modally different than the music that we’re used to. It’s modally and harmonically a little bit exotic. It’s definitely different than, say, bluegrass, which has harmony and melody and chords that we’re familiar with. The klezmer music draws on a different modal system,” Olson said. “That’s what interested me as a musician and a listener. And I’m not Jewish, I just craved exotic things.”
Now 61 and a mandolin and doumbek (a drum) player, the former Victoria Symphony double bass player for 35 years joined The Klez a few years ago.
“I took up mandolin about 10 years ago so I could sit in a chair. It’s just easy to sit in a comfortable chair and play the mandolin,” he said with a chuckle. “I came from a bluegrass and country music background, I was a player of acoustic music, an acoustic purist.”
In his late teens, Olson went south of the border to study music, and the classical musician discovered klezmer and other Eastern European music when he returned north. He played 15 years with the Original Balkan Jam, who had a following around Victoria, in the early 1980s.
“That was the band that I first played klezmer music in,” Olson said. “The music is heavily influenced by the old countries in Europe where people came from … Some of the music known as klezmer has roots known in Eastern Europe like Romania, Ukraine, Poland and places like that. Some klezmer is also composed in the United States during a period when immigrants wanted to remember the old country and they wanted to hang out with old expatriates. You can hear the influences in the music, it coloured the music.”
Alluring rhythms and exotic modes can change several times, even within one song. The melodies often combine happy and sad themes that reflect the nature of life.
The Klez performs Oct. 7 at 7:30 p.m. in the Upstairs Lounge at Oak Bay Recreation Centre, 1975 Bee St. Tickets are $15 in advance (recommended), available at the centre, Ivy’s Books and online through beaconridgeproductions.com or $20 at the door.