Reb Nachman, With A Backbeat
Wed, 09/11/2013
Special To The Jewish Week
The Breslov Bar Band brings a funk backbeat and jazz drive to the songs of the Breslover chasidim.
The Breslov Bar Band brings a funk backbeat and jazz drive to the songs of the Breslover chasidim.

Binyomin Ginzberg comes by his love of nigunim, the wordless, prayerful songs that are a hallmark of chasidic music, almost genetically.

“Well, it’s really kind of an inside-outsider’s take,” he confesses with a certain air of amusement. “I’m descended from chasidic families — I come from [the] Twersky and Halberstam [families] through my grandmothers, and through one of them I’m descended from Rabbi Nachman.”

Which makes him the perfect person to lead the Breslov Bar Band, a wildly inventive group that brings a funk backbeat and post-bop drive to the songs of the Breslover chasidim, the spiritual descendants of Nachman. With the release this fall of its second CD, “Happy Hour,” and full schedule of live gigs, the group should be coming to the forefront of Jewish music fans’ consciousness.

Ginzberg is the keyboard player and vocalist for the BBB, a veteran who cut his teeth on the simcha circuit in New York City. His love of nigunim led him to explore a repertoire that, he says, never found a niche in the klezmer revival.

“They looked at this music and decided ‘this is not of interest to us,’” the bandleader says. “When it comes to the disco-pop branch [of contemporary chasidic music], I agree. But these melodies that we’re playing, there’s not a whole lot that’s different from klezmer.”

Like the music of many of the New Klez bands, the Breslover melodies are a jumping-off point for some creative interpretations that Rabbi Nachman might not recognize. Certainly the stinging fuzz-tone guitar lines that Allen Watsky brings to the table would be quite a surprise to the tzadik, although one imagines that reedmen Zach Mayer and Mike Cohen would find favor with him.

Besides, as Ginzberg says, “I always start with the melody, with what it says to me.”

“Happy Hour,” the new CD by the Breslov Bar Band, is available from www.cdbaby.com. The band will be performing a Hoshana Raba Concert at the Carlebach Shul (305 W. 79th St.) on Sept. 24, and will be playing in the New York Klezmer Series Nov. 19 at the Stephen Wise Synagogue (30 W. 68th St.)