An entire generation of East Bay Jews has grown up celebrating Hanukah with Kaila Flexer. Since launching Klezmer Mania! at the Julia Morgan Theater in 1989, the Oakland violinist has produced an annual Jewish music event that brings an international array of talent to local stages. She serves up the fourth version of “Pomegranates & Figs: A Feast of Jewish Music” at 8:00 p.m. on Saturday Dec. 15 at Freight & Salvage.
Opening with a menorah lighting to celebrate the last night of Hanukah, the triple bill with Berkeley’s Veretski Pass, a klezmer power trio, the string-centric Oakland Folkharmonic, and the blazing Balkan brass ensemble Inspector Gadje. The evening always ends with an all-hands-on-deck finale.
“Each year has its own flavor,” says Flexer, whose primary musical vehicle in recent years is her extraordinary Near Eastern duo with Berkeley string wizard Gari Hegedus. “We’ve been rehearsing in various combinations, which is how it ought to be with musicians living in close proximity. I’m not so interested in throwing things together.”
Featuring more than a dozen musicians who trained intensively with Berkeley’s Bulgarian-born Romani percussionist Rumen “Sali” Shopov, Inspector Gadje delivers a whirling, thumping sound, with soaring melodies powered by intricate, odd-metered grooves. “They are a wonderful young band with a lot of great energy,” Flexer says. “We heard them at Yoshi’s a couple months ago and loved their sound, so we asked them to join us.”
Flexer and Berkeley’s Shira Kammen, best known for her work in Ensemble Alcatraz, Project Ars Nova and Medieval Strings, launched the Folkharmonic at last year’s P&F performance, though the band has only once since then. Focusing on original music by Flexer and Kammen as well as traditional modal music from a variety of traditions, the ensemble features Kammen on the medieval violin-like vielle, violin and viola, Kyla Danysh on violin, and sisters Rachel and Danielle Taylor on violin and viola, respectively. Los Angeles bassist Miles Jay, last heard in the Bay Area with Crete-based composer and lyra master Ross Daly, joins the Folkharmonic as a special guest.
“He’s so musical and tasteful,” Flexer says. “Since everyone plays violin and viola, we don’t have anything happening in the low end, so he’s the glue. It’s so fun to play with all these string players, the Folkharmonic is particularly fun because the sisters Rachel and Danielle were two of my students at a summer music camp. They grew up, graduated from music school and moved back, so Shira and I are the parents, and we have the girls.”
Andrew Gilbert, whose Berkeleyside music column appears every Thursday, also covers music and dance for the San Jose Mercury News, Contra Costa Times, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe and KQED’s California Report. He lives in west Berkeley.
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