What: Ezekiel's Wheels Klezmer Band
When: 8:30 p.m. Monday, April 15
Where: Barking Legs Theater, 1307 Dodds Ave.
Venue website: www.barkinglegs.org
It has the liveliness of traditional Irish music, the improvisation of jazz and the virtuosic complexity of classical music. If klezmer, the dance music of Eastern European Jews, were to have a nutritional parallel, it would probably be the blueberry or some other superfood.
If so, Ezekiel's Wheels Klezmer Band is one of the juiciest berries around. Last year, the Boston-based quintet made a splash as the audience pick and best klezmer ensemble designees in Amsterdam's International Jewish Music Festival seven months after winning the Klezmer Idol competition at the Boston Jewish Music Festival.
The band's roots stretch back to 2004, when clarinetist Nat Seelen and fiddler Jon Cannon began playing the music together in a klezmer band called Yarmulkazi while attending Brown University in Providence, R.I.
"That's where I learned a basic repertoire and how to play in the style but also how to play in a fun group like this," says Seelen, who first became infatuated with the genre in high school through a CD with performances by Yiddish clarinetist Naftule Brandwein.
In 2008, Cannon and Seelen moved to Boston, recruited other instrumentalists and formed Ezekiel's Wheels. Noticing the dour faces of Boston morning commuters, the band cut its teeth by filling the tunnels of Boston's subway lines with a whirling dervish of sound born of trombone, fiddle, bass and clarinet.
Ezekiel's Wheels' lineup remained mostly consistent for the last four years, with the exception of a second fiddler, Abigale Reisman, who joined about 18 months ago.
Monday, the group will make its Chattanooga debut at Barking Legs Theater.
As with many styles of folk music, klezmer is popular among certain populations but may be completely foreign to audiences on the road. As a result, Seelen says, the band often finds itself serving as both teacher and performer, filling audiences in on the history of the music and of individual songs.
Engaging with the audience by giving them context and perspective about an otherwise foreign style of music is one way the band combats the ear fatigue of sets composed entirely of instrumental pieces, Seelen says.
An even more appealing quality, he adds, is that the group's members genuinely like each other, which makes the freylekhs all the more lively and the doinas all the more somber.
"Pretty much whenever we're onstage, we're all having a good time, and we're awful at concealing that," Seelen says, laughing.
Contact staff writer Casey Phillips at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.