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REVIEWS from Critics
devile's brides
The Devil's Brides

Pheby, Folk Roots Magazine (#346, April 2012)

The standout track (is) Getshinke, which describes the unhappy fate of a Jewish girl from Vilna during the First World War (sung here in customarily soulful style by Elizabeth Schwartz). ...The music is superb, in turns joyful and mournful, recorded in such an intimate acoustic that the listener is really caught up in the ebb and flow of the often brilliant improvisations on violin, cimbalom, accordeon and bass. In the macaronic Dire Gelt, for example, Yale Strom's violin leads a subtle exploration of themes and languages and stories and understanding and you can hear every delicate twist and variation and flit of breath and bow and plot.
Schwartz sings the new Sofia's Song, a tale of poverty and doomed love, with cool desperation, as the musicians take it in turns to back her yearning. On the earthy and expansive Lustig Zayn, meanwhile, with its neat accordeon lunacy and spirited conclusion, she successfully captures the indignity and senselessness of the poor Jew ensconced in a bear suit for the amusement of the whiskey-fueled audience.
What the album really is, of course, is a wonderful primer for someone who wants to commence an exploration of klezmer music, an approachable introduction to a rich musical world that can sometimes appear intimidating and mysterious.

Michael Church, The Independent
In 18th-century Poland there were women klezmer musicians who travelled to perform at fairs all over Central Europe. Ethnographer-violinist Strom has researched their repertoire, and this CD contains some of his discoveries.

With Miriam Margolyes' help he also introduces the music: supported by cimbalom, accordion and bass, the husky timbre of Elizabeth Schwartz brings an aching authenticity to these songs and dances from the shtetls of pre-1939 Europe. Four Stars.

The Scotsman, January 2012
It’s not generally known that in late-18th-century Poland there were women klezmer musicians who travelled to perform at fairs all over Central Europe. Ethnographer-violinist Yale Strom has researched their repertoire exhaustively, and here – with his klezmer group Hot Pstromi – he presents a few of his trouvailles, some of which have a poignant history. One dance tune was collected from a Jewish barrel-maker by Menachem Kipnis, who died in the Warsaw ghetto in 1942; another was collected from a Jewish baker in Kiev in 1937. One poem was found by Strom in a folder in the archives of a library in Vilnius: it had been lodged there by the Yiddish folklorist Yehudah Leib Cahan before he emigrated to America, and tells of the plight of a young Jewish girl in Vilna, as the armies of Germany and the Soviet Union were advancing on the city. Another song Cahan collected reflects the klezmer musicians’ traditional money problems in the shtetls, where their status was – despite their music’s popularity – at the bottom of the social heap. The spoken commentary by Margolyes and Strom works well, with the music itself achingly genuine. And that is thanks to the musical integrity of the performers: the husky sound of Elizabeth Schwartz, a one-time collaborator with Muzsikas; the dexterity of Alexander Fedoriouk, whose playing of the cimbalom began with village weddings in the Carpathian Mountains; plus Sprocket on bass, and Peter Stan on accordion.

R2 Magazine
The album is thus more of a documentary perhaps, but the music itself is truly wonderful – klezmer and Yiddish folksongs played on violin, tsimbl (the dulcimer-like cimbalom), accordion, bass, and with many tracks benefitting from the vocals of Elizabeth Schwartz. Wild, uplifting or deeply melancholy, this music is of great interest to all klezmer enthusiasts…


"Not surprisingly, The Devil’s Brides is a serious work by an accomplished musicologist. Originally conceived as the musical score for the 2011 audio drama “The Witches of Lublin,” The Devil’s Brides is based on Strom’s discovery that, contrary to conventional belief, there were occasionally women klezmer musicians performing publicly at fairs throughout Central Europe in the 17th and early 18th centuries. The Devil’s Brides consists of 11 songs (some traditional arrangements and others composed by Strom) of the sort that might have been heard at the typical Jewish wedding in 18th century Poland, each one with an audio introduction by Strom and actress/voice artist Miriam Maygolyes (Harry Potter). The songs – some festive, others melancholy – are performed in the klezmer style featuring violin (Strom), cimbalom (a hammered dulcimer) (Alexander Federiouk), bass (Sprocket), and accordion (Peter Stan), with substantial spontaneous improvisation. Strom’s wife, Elizabeth Schwartz, contributes her trademark dusky vocals.

The Devil’s Brides, subtitled Klezmer & Yiddish Songs, is released by ARC Music (UK), a leading label for top quality world and folk music. The packaging is first rate, including extensive liner notes with photos (translated into English, German, French, and Spanish). One need not be a student of klezmer music to enjoy this exuberant compilation of expertly performed tunes. The “history lessons” between each song are short and interesting. Highlights (at least to this reviewer) are “Dire Gelt” (showcasing intricate violin work by Strom and instrumental improvisation among the Hot Pstromi ensemble), “Tumbalalayka” (featuring Schwartz’s robust vocals), and “Lustig Zayn” (featuring spirited accordion and cimbalom work).

Serious listeners (or even beginning klezmer enthusiasts) will be riveted by Strom’s research, the diversity of the selections, the artist biographies, the original Yiddish lyrics, and the cultural/ historical significance of the songs. Even klezmer novices will enjoy this excellent survey of a rich (but once almost forgotten) musical tradition."

Borsht with Bread, Brothers (ARC) buy now

Allen Singer, San Diego Troubador, October 2009
This great gift of music is tied to Jewish folk songs and melded with the rhythms of all the places Jews have lived around the world where they have been touched by the local culture and music. The tunes are infused with a sound that I can only describe as Jewish blues/jazz, Roma (Gypsy) music, and all things Middle Eastern and pentatonic. It takes you on the road of the Jewish Diaspora with music local to each country along the route but unique in its heartfelt similarities and sounds. This is an exciting CD as well as an historic one. It introduces and extends the Klezmer themes and music into a European borsht-like mixture of many musical colors and sounds.

The CD iincludes a mélange of different musicians, starting with Yale Strom on violin and Hot Pstromi members Fred Benedetti on guitar, David Licht on percussion, Jeff Pekarek on bass, Sprocket Royer on bass, Elizabeth Schwartz providing soulful vocals, Tripp Sprague on saxophone, Norbert Stachel on saxophone/multi woodwinds, and Peter Stan on accordion.

The CD roams through 12 songs, each unique and each a musical piece of a musical puzzle that takes you through an exciting journey of Eastern European Jewish dance and folk music. Listening to this music filled me with many emotions, both joyous and sorrowful. This type of emotional reaction is something that seems to have disappeared recently as we listen to the music we are force fed by robotic radio and the odes played on American Idol. This CD touches your soul and your heart and never lets up. Yale Strom has created a CD that makes you want more, so you play it again, over and over, always finding new themes, new rhythms, and emotionally laden vocals with notes that shake your soul.

The CD sings to the six million lost, bringing them back to the rest of us still here who are alive and dancing to Bread with Borsht, Brothers. Indeed, Yale Strom has created a CD for everyone. Its melodies will make you move your feet, shed a tear, laugh out loud, and forever remember the songs of a people who wandered through many lands and mixed in the cultures they absorbed along the way. This is truly world music, culturally created in Eastern Europe, but cross-fertilized with sounds from as far away as Turkey, the Middle East, and North Africa, brought to life again in those long gone, ghost-inhabited Jewish communities that still exist in our DNA.   

L'Chaim ("to Life!") to a treasury of culture and music that plays out on this wonderful, intelligent CD. 

Scott Stevens of Spin the Globe in Olympia, WA
Yale Strom's brain should be designated a site of international cultural significance. Well, his brain and his violin-playing fingers, and possibly some other parts as well. Working in many media, Strom has worked to learn, preserve, and share Jewish and Rom music and culture from Eastern Europe. His latest works:

The CD Borsht with Bread, Brothers includes songs from Ukraine, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania, Poland, Germany, Russia, Belarus, and Moldava. Picture yourself in a tavern full of sweaty men dancing to the vigorous "Svalava Kozatshok." Or get rebellious in an old-school sort or way to the anti-Czarist "Vemen Veln Mir Dinen, Brider (Whom Shall We Serve, Brothers)," with its brooding mood and seriously soulful vocals by Elizabeth Schwartz: "Whom shall we serve, brothers? / It's not good to serve the Russian Czar / Because he bathes in our blood." Well, no...that's not good. While the music stands on its own, the rich song notes (and lyrics and translations for those songs with words) give historic and cultural context -- in four languages!


Sing Out! Magazine

Much of the music now associated with the Klezmer revival is based on source recordings made by first generation immigrant musicians who arrived in the Americas in the early decades of the 20th Century and became recording and performing artists. Naftule Brandwein and Dave Tarras are probably the best known examples of those early Klezmer stars. However, violinist Yale Strom and his band Hot Pstromi have taken a different direction on this intense and riveting CD, playing tunes and songs Strom has collected from the largely unknown   Jewish and Roma musicians he’s encountered on collecting trips to Eastern Europe since 1981. Jewish and Roma musicians often interacted with each other in the pre-Holocaust Eastern Europe of the 19th and 20th centuries, exchanging tunes, playing in each other’s bands, etc. and both Jewish and Roma traditions run through much of this CD. So, too, do the various regional musical styles from the different areas of Eastern Europe that these selections came from. And, of course, another factor at play here is the awesome virtuosity and versatility of the various musicians in Hot Pstromi: guitarist Fred Benedetti; David Licht, a former Klezmatic, on percussion; bassists Jeff Pekarek and Sprocket Royer; reed players Tripp Sprague and Norbert Stachel; accordionist Peter Stan; and vocalist Elizabeth Schwartz.

Picking favourite tracks from the dozen here is almost impossible, but I’ll call special attention to “Stole A Kakos Mar,” a Hasidic song from Hungary sung in Hungarian and Hebrew, with a vocal performance from Schwartz and perfect accompaniment from the band, that almost reminds me of Edith Piaf at her best. Another that must be singled out is “Vemen Veln Mir Dinen, Brider,” a Yiddish protest song that laments being forced to serve in the czar’s army.

This is a very special Klezmer album.



absolutely klezmer
ABSOLUTELY KLEZMER VOL. 2 (Transcontinental Music) buy now
Alex Monaghan, FolkWorld #45 07/2011

I'm tempted to say "Never mind the quality, feel the width" - but this marathon CD is not just about quantity. Of the seventeen tracks here, most are great pieces of Jewish music: the poignancy of The Bride's Lament or Vizhnitser Nign, the exotic exuberance of Freylachs and Horas, and the earthy emotions and laconic wit of songs such as Lekhayim or The Mother-in Law. Yale Strom has assembled all the key ingredients of great klezmer on this recording. There's his own weeping fiddle, the powerful expressive voice of Elizabeth Schwartz, the deep throbbing accordion of Peter Stan, and the woodwind virtuosity of Norbert Stachel on clarinet, sax and flute. Jim Whitney's double bass is solid throughout too, bowed or plucked. One or two of the arrangements didn't work for me, and there's an odd tendency for the woodwind to lag behind the beat on some tracks, but most of the time this quintet is tight and thrilling. From understated beauty on Dobranotsh to full-throated abandon for Knayfl's Freylekhs, there's plenty to enjoy here. Mitsve Tants, Londre, The Youngest Daughter's Wedding and other highlights exemplify the zest for life and the extremes of emotion expressed in European Jewish music from Brooklyn to the Balkans.

The Absolutely Complete Klezmer Songbook buy now

Scott Stevens of Spin the Globe in Olympia, WA
The Absolutely Complete Klezmer Songbook gives Strom a chance to show that he's not just a musician, but also a collector of songs and stories and information and music. Essentially an enhanced fake book, the volume includes a 20-odd page history of Jewish music from Biblical times to present day; 400 pages of sheet music (313 songs!) organized by song type and occasion; a glossary of (mostly Yiddish) terms; and a 36-track CD of klezmer tunes performed by Strom and Hot Pstromi.

Even non-musicians will find fascinating tidbits in the history section, from the role of Felix Mendelssohn's grandfather in suppressing Yiddish language and music to the role the khasidim played in reinvigorating Jewish music and dance, even the occasional tradition of hurling snowballs at Jewish newlyweds. If you're a musician devoted to or just curious about klezmer music, The Absolutely Complete Klezmer Songbook is a rich and unparalleled resource.

A review by Eric Zaidins , October 22, 2007

"Learning to play klezmer, for young and old alike, can be a challenge. The music isn't often played in major or minor scales. Instead its keys, or modes, are referred to as Freygish, Misheberech and Adonoy moloch to name just three. Its various rhythms Nigun, Freylekh, Bulgar, Chosidl, Hora, Terkisher, Sirba, Sher, Taksim, and Doina, must be mastered. Not so easy if raised on a diet of rock, country, hip-hop, or even classical.

In a bygone era, klezmorim learned the melodies from each other. They were passed from musician to musician in the oral tradition; music stores didn't exist. Imagine, no sheet music to be handed out, no recordings to buy, no iTunes to download.

With the rediscovery of klezmer starting in the late 1970s, a number of recordings, and some sheet music, from the first half of the 20th century were available to use for guidance. The number of recordings has grown but the availability of written music has not kept pace. A few have done an admirable job at publishing sheet music: The Kammen International Portfolio (published in 1924 and revised in 1951) and more recently, Sherry Mayrent's Klezmer for Everyone series instruments (published in 2001), to name just two. Nothing has been exhaustingly comprehensive. Until now.

With close to 300 klezmer tunes, old standards and many newly discovered, in-depth discussions of the music and its history, plus an accompanying CD, The Absolutely Complete Klezmer Songbook, edited by Yale Strom, is amazing.

Strom has traveled extensively throughout Eastern Europe and the former Eastern Bloc countries, meeting with klezmorim and learning traditional and new melodies. He has collected photographs, recordings, oral histories, and sheet music.

Strom's Songbook opens with a fascinating history of klezmer music, gathered from his research and travels; it is a must-read for all klezmer musicians. The sheet music is organized by category: wedding tunes, including dances for the in-laws; farewell dances; and the traditional bulgars, freylekhs, and other klezmer music forms. Many of the songs will be familiar to klezmer musicians, while others, especially those gathered from Eastern European and Eastern Bloc klezmorim, have not been heard by most Western musicians.

All music is written in concert key with chords; 36 of the songs have been transposed for Bb instruments and also are presented in the book's accompanying CD.

The Absolutely Complete Klezmer Songbook expands the growing library of world klezmer music and captures melodies that otherwise may have disappeared. It belongs in the library of every dedicated klezmer musician and aficionado. "

The Wedding That Saved a Town buy now

Kaitlyn Moore ForeWord Magazine
Weddings are a facet of every culture, however their purposes and their customs vary greatly between cultures. Gaining an understanding of various customs often leads to cultural respect, and thus award-winning author Yale Strom’s book can serve as a way to expose children to a traditional European Jewish wedding custom. Strom is also a renowned klezmer musician, filmmaker, and scholar of the Jewish faith.

In this modern folk-tale, the main character, Yiske, is asked to perform at a wedding. Yiske gladly accepts the offer, but he soon learns of the grim reasoning for the wedding. The people of the town are sick, and only a traditional “shvartze chaseneh” can help lift the illness. Yiske then sets his mind to finding the perfect couple for the wedding in hopes of a cure. The last page of the book contains an author’s note and a glossary of Yiddish words that are seen throughout the book.

Jenya Prosmitksy’s illustrations are cartoon-like, bringing light to what may appear otherwise as a dismal tradition. Colorful and full of expression, they compliment Strom’s strong characters. Prosmitsky grew up in the former USSR and has illustrated other children’s books, including, A Mink, A Fink, A Skating Rink: What is a Noun? and Hairy, Scary, Ordinary: What is an Adjective?

The book is valuable for children and educators alike. For children, it is a hopeful and animated tale. For educators, the book can be used to enhance multiculturalism in the classroom. In addition, Jewish students might feel more comfortable in the classroom if a traditional tale of theirs were integrated with dominate Christian traditions. 



klezmer revival
The Rough Guide to Klezmer Revival (Various Artists)

It's turning into a week full of klezmer at the New Times office. The folks at Rough Guide sent over their latest disc, The Rough Guide to Klezmer Revival, for review, with 18 tracks of fresh new klezmer music compiled in one kick-ass disc. It's hard to imagine anything being kick-ass about klezmer, but  I popped that disc in and started listening to jams like "Flatbush Waltz" (Andy Statman) and "Café Jew Zoo" (Yale Strom & Hot Pstromi), both solid jams full of sexy clarinet playing and deft accordion work.





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