music: mama’s chicken gumbo

The Yiddish Twist Orchestra is not klezmer, though you might think so from the name. It’s hard to say exactly what it is, other than a topnotch band that delighted its audience by fluently quoting everything from the Dayenu to West Side Story to the Benny Hill theme during a Monday night show at the Apex in Bury St. Edmund. The rings in its Venn diagram include swing, jazz, Latin, cabaret, Middle Eastern, Vegas lounge, early rock’n’roll, Eurovision, trance, and okay, klezmer (though in a brighter key than usual [1]).

The group led by guitarist Ben Mandelson and Nord keyboardist Robin Harris project confidence from the first notes – even if you don’t know what they’re going to do, they do and so you can relax, except for the mental reference engine. (Los Lobos. Dizzy Gillespie. Pulp Fiction soundtrack. Jerry Lee Lewis. Nat Newborn and Lounge Lions.) Visually, they’re an ironic retro act, a callback to LP sleeves with guys in sharp suits plying their shiny horns in front of a richly colored drape.


Singer Natty Bo, the man in the leopardskin cap, delivered mambo and Yiddish themed songs like “Mazel” in a voice that channeled Louis Prima. He got the audience on their feet and, in the climax of the show, threw bagels at them. A little of that kind of humor goes a long way (see: Red Elvises) and his appearances were judiciously metered. The horn and rhythm players varied in their appetite for solos and improvisation, but the sound was tight and the music on their stands was the main clue that some may have been sitting in for absent regulars.

The promotional flyer claims the London-based band is reviving “der shvitz,” a relic of Britain’s postwar globalization that “crossed the Atlantic in diluted form as the Twist.” Is this a hoax? Probably. Does it matter? No. Yiddish Twist are good enough to do without genre as justification for their music.

Full disclosure: My ticket was free from the promoter as I took the place of a student reviewer. I would have considered the £12.50 entry a bargain anyway. Also, I got a bagel.

Car-free in Suffolk: You can get to Bury about 40 minutes from Ipswich by train and the schedule runs until 10:19 pm going north and 11:30 pm or midnight going south. Cost is £8.10 in each direction. The X14-X15 bus may be cheaper, but runs seldom. Taxi from station to Apex was £3.50.

[1] A confession: I don’t like klezmer. I feel guilty about this, as if I’m failing to do my part for my own endangered species. Every couple of years I try again, find it too mournful and put on something more upbeat, like Billie Holiday.

Posted on by Diana ben-Aaron
This entry was posted in journalism, music, review, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.