Veretski Pass

Veretski Pass Album Reviews


Speaking of a deep understanding of Jewish music, you could hardly find a trio with more depth and breadth of knowledge than the members of Veretski Pass. Alumni past and present from various bands, including the Klezmorim, Brave Old World, Budowitz, and the Klezmer Conservatory Band, violinist Cookie Segelstein, accordionist Joshua Horowitz, and cellist Stuart Brotman plunge themselves into the geographical and musical worlds where Jewish meets Carpathian, Rumanian, Ottoman, Bessarabian, and Polish.

The result, on ’Trafik’ (Golden Horn,, the group’s latest CD, is a timeless fusion of old and new, where songs are grouped in suites (as they were typically in the Old World, played for dances at weddings), and imparting different moods, or what the group likes to call ’musical contraband’ (a great pun, by the way).

The playing throughout is virtuosic, and while this is a very serious chamber group, that doesn’t stop the musicians from having fun, for example, with song titles such as ’Curly Wolf Patch,’ ’Tango Under the Influence,’ and ’Dov the Cowswimmer,’ or with a hint of bluegrass on numbers like ’Noisy Dog.’ With ’Trafik,’ Veretski Pass has made one of the best klezmer albums in years.

Seth Rogovoy, February 14, 2008, Berkshire Jewish Voice

There are times when a musical performance completely transcends our notions of what we think of as ’good’ music, regardless of the genre. Such is the case with Trafik, the new release from the trio Veretski Pass. When you are presented with such distinctive material, virtuosic musicianship, and excellent engineering, you have the ingredients for an amazing album.

The music originates from Eastern Europe in the Carpathian region, where the real Veretski Pass is located. The traffic referred to in the album title is the transiting of various peoples through the area. Musical styles from the neighboring cultures in the region are blended together and transformed into a sound that is unique to this group.

Trafik consists of nine suites, each with its own thematic idea. Some of the suite or track titles are slang phrases from the cultures represented; others are more descriptive. One of my favorites is "Zero Dark Hundred," a beautiful Violin doina. Others, such as the suite "Full Bow of Horse" have the titles "Dov the Cow Swimmer" and "Noisy Dog." There is also the lovely "Tango Under the Influence," an accordion feature, with a steady rhythmic Bass line underneath. If you are curious about these titles go to the Veretski Pass website and Klezmer Podcast 18.

The trio consists of highly talented musicians Cookie Segelstein (Violin); Joshua Horowitz (Button Accordion, Tsimbl); and Stuart Brotman (Cello, Tilinca, Baraban). They have a communal approach to arranging their music, combining traditional melodies with original compositions in such a way that the line is blurred between the two. They have a way of making original works sound just like a traditional village melody. And it works the other way around, too. As Segelstein says: "We decided to just play music we like, and if we didn't like it we'd rewrite it." They also blend their own compositions with improvisations to come up with some very interesting musical forms.

One of the suites that I like a lot is "The Pass," consisting of "Red Mist" and "Risen Ground," with Brotman playing the Tilinca, or Carpathian Flute, a simple village instrument that seems to have a life of its own. We hear a Tilinca doina, followed by a lively dance. The last section, "Klyucharkier Kolomeyke" and "Hutzulka" is a fast dance with Brotman switching to Balaban (or Poik, a drum/cymbal setup) and Horowitz on Tsimbl.

But the music is more that just dances. The slower songs, like the Hora tracks are moving, but not in a sentimental way. They simply reflect the feeling of the music from this region. And the folk fiddle style is in high gear on "Three Wheels Czardas." Segelstein is just as much a master of the folk fiddle as she is of the doina, and everything in between.

Now, just a bit about the engineering of Trafik. From a technical point of view, this album is a finely crafted work of art. The album was recorded "live" with very little editing. There are no overdubs or reverb. It was recorded in a recital hall with great natural acoustics. The only editing was to combine the best "takes" together. In fact, only 15 edits were made on the album. For a more in-depth look at the recording process look at Recording Trafik with Veretski Pass by Yves Feder, recording master for Tiny Radio Productions on the Veretski Pass website.

The CD package has a minimum of information. Only track title information, credits, and special thanks are included. The group’s website has some additional information, such as a Glossary for both the Suite and Track Titles, bios, instrument information, photos, and the aforementioned look at the recording process.

I find Trafik to be a great look into the world of Eastern European village music. I highly recommend this album to anyone who has an interest in the Carpathian klezmer style, or who just appreciates a masterful performance of this deep and meaningful music. It is a celebration fit for the young and old alike. Don't "Pass" this album up!

Keith Wolzinger, January 13, 2008, Klezmer Podcast

Look at a map of the old Jewish Pale of Settlement in Russia between 1835 and 1917. Veretski Pass is the trans-Carpathian artery that linked the communities of the Ukraine, Carpathian-Ruthenia, Bessarabia and Rumania. Had travel within the Pale not been highly regulated by the Czarist regime, this would have been the Pale’s I-10.

Veretski Pass is also the name of the klezmer instrumental trio of Cookie Segelstein (violin), Joshua Horowitz (accordion and tsimbl) and Stuart Brotman (cello, pan flute and baraban, a type of drum). The band plays a style of centuries old Eastern European roots music. Historically, Jews in the Pale were restricted to playing soft-sounding, mostly string instruments (as opposed to brass instruments played by military bands). No matter what the official restrictions were, Jewish musicians of the day played a wide repertoire of both Jewish and indigenous folk music. Put yourself in the hands of Veretski Pass. This is a musical experience that speaks to our inner Ashkenazi Jew.

The CD is a ’live studio’ recording, made with no overdubs and a minimum of editing. The result is a concert type experience without the audience sounds. ’Trafik’ is easily the best Jewish music release of the year.

Aaron Howard, October 16, 2008, Jewish Herald-Voice, Texas

Nominally a klezmer trio, Veretski Pass plays a mixture of many styles, but from a narrow geographic range of Eastern European influences: Carpathian, Jewish, Rumanian, Ottoman, Polish, Moldavian, and others. The dance genres they perform range from the relatively familiar doina, czardas, and freylakh to several grooves that are new to me.

Each member has plenty of room to shine: Stuart Brotman with great, groaning bass lines on cello (retuned from low, AADG!!) and Cookie Segelstein’s trilling, sobbing, sliding violin; Josh Horowitz on button accordion and tsimbl. Segelstein has made the transition from symphonic violist to the top echelon of klezmer-style violinists.

The musicians interact with the insight and passion that only touring bands can generate, resulting in a whole that is significantly greater than the three component parts.

Trafik contains 30 pieces, mostly originals, ranging in length from approximately one to five minutes, arranged into nine ’suites’ and much great music, lovingly recorded with exquisite fidelity.

Stacy Phillips, November 2008, Strings Magazine

Budowitz boys break out

The trio of musicians that make up Veretski Pass are some the most accomplished on the klezmer scene - Cookie Segelstein (violin), Joshua Horowitz (button accordion and cimbalom) and Stuart Brotman (cello). Named after a route across the mountains in Carpathian Ukraine, the band plays music inspired by the many nationalities and ethnicities that rubbed shoulders in the region - Romanians, Ukrainians, Moldavians, Hutsul and, of course, Jews. Traditional tunes are juxtaposed with compositions by the band, but they all merge seamlessly into exquisite suites of related material. I particularly like the Carpathian-flavoured set called ’The Pass’, with Brotman on tilinca flute and Horowitz on cimbalom, the ’Roadside Wedding’ tunes, which include a dark accordion-led tango, and the ghostly spectral mood of ’Vojvodina Parting’.

There is a danger that Veretski Pass might sound merely like a stripped down version of Budowitz - Segelstein and Horowitz are the backbone of both - but, while the range of colours is restricted, there’s a fantastic sense of intimacy in this small-scale trio. They do need to let their hair down though. You can imagine a group like this playing long ago in the hills, although you can bet they would never have played as immaculately as this.

Simon Broughton, April/May 2008, Songlines

First Album

Cookie Segelstein (what a great moniker) has recently joined Alicia Svigals and Steven Greenman as Klezmer’s most in-demand fiddlers. This is her debut CD with her new band, Veretski Pass. She is assisted by two veterans of the scene, Joshua Horowitz and Stuart Brotman, who contribute haunting, effective accompaniment and a few solo pieces of their own on several instruments apiece, including accordion, bass (with a great groaning timbre), cymbalom, and such exotica as Polish folk cello (three gut strings tund in fourths, worn around the neck with a string, and bowed diagonally, and baraban – a bass drum with a cymbal bolted to the top.

But Segelstein is the center of attention and is prepared for the challenge. She has a recognizably individual style, with clear elements from mainstream Klezmer and Hungarian Gypsy. Her playing shows technical mastery and assured authority of the genres, often operating at full throttle, but always in full control. She uses her conservatory training in the service of the music with obvious attention to achieving driving rhythms.

The group puts out an amazing amount of energy for a trio. (There is some overdubbing.) Its sound is an old time style, a string ensemble with a minimalist approach to chord progressions. Segelstein describes the Veretski Pass sound as, basically, Carpathian fiddle music as would have been played by a band specializing in Jewish music, but also able to play the music of neighboring cultures.

Almost all the pieces are new to me; many, while from Jewish repertories, are not mainstream Klezmer. The Crimean Tatar (from the area of the Black Sea) pieces are particularly striking as well as some Ukrainian and Transylvanian pieces. Segelstein adds even more variety with one piece with the fiddle in A-E-A-C# tuning and one viola suite.

Stacy Phillips, Fiddler Magazine, Spring 2004

…in an impressive line-up of US klezmer luminaries – fiddler Cookie Segelstein, accordion and tsimbl (cimbalom) player Joshua Horowitz and bassist Stuart Brotman. From the first notes of ‘Tyachiver Sirba’ you can hear this is earthy, rural music – and most of it unknown repertoire from the Ukraine, including a rare Karaite Jewish song from the Crimean Tartars with an unbending drone bass.

The 30 short pieces are grouped into suites with slight instrumental variations – the violin is exchanged for viola, the tsimbl replaced by accordion. ‘Horowitz’s Lament’, a solo accordion track, is a marvelous example of how the historical instruments – in this case a 19th century button accordion – make the music spring to life as you hear the buttons and bellows live and breathe.
…Veretski Pass stands out as something bold, unusual and musically satisfying.

Simon Broughton, Songlines, Issue #26, September/October 2004

No one else on the local scene - or any other scene - is doing what Veretski Pass is. This self-titled record is a collection of Jewish folk music from Eastern Europe, as interpreted by Cookie Segelstein on violin and viola, Joshua Horowitz on button accordion and tsimbl and Stuart Brotman on bass, basy and baraban. The tunes are mysterious, enthralling and beautifully annotated with personal anecdotes in the liner notes, which also include recipes that sound delicious.

Eric R. Danton, Hartford Courant, January 6, 2005

This is a juicy, satisfying collection of traditional East European Jewish music. Racing through thirty tracks in just under an hour, this trio of solid American musicians keeps your ears open and toes tapping. Almost every track segues effortlessly and breathlessly into the next, sounding like they recorded the whole thing in one marathon session.

Segelstein’s violin is at the center of this whirlwind, and it’s a clean, muscular sound. She digs assertively into the strings, leaping and trilling without fear. Not to be outdone, Joshua Horowitz is equally at home on button accordion and tsimbl, matching Segelstein stroke for stroke. Stuart Brotman’s bass buzzes and chugs underneath it all, adding just enough weight to keep things from flying off into the stratosphere. Individually, the musicians have impressive resumes; together they are a force to be reckoned with.

Peggy Latkovich, Rootsworld, 10/04

The group takes its name from the mountain pass in the Trans-Carpathian region of Eastern Europe (now known as Ukraine) that many Jewish travelers crossed on their way to freedom. Those numerous travelers influenced the music of the region, and those influences and more can be heard on the trio’s self-titled debut CD.

Joined by Budowitz founder Joshua Horowitz (tsimbl, button accordion) and Stuart Brotman (bass, percussion), Segelstein has mined her ancestral home and created a gem of a recording. Veretski Pass plays "dance" music. You can hear the rhythms from the tsimbl (hammered dulcimer) and the melodies from the violin or viola and accordion. There’s a real sense of joy in Segelstein’s playing. Her lines seemingly fly out of her instruments. The bouncing sound of Horowitz’s tsimbl echoes the melody on the majority of the songs, and his accordion work is exemplary.

Most of the pieces are short -- 30 tracks, all instrumentals, in less than 60 minutes -- but even the shortest cuts are played with verve or deep emotion. "Veretski Pass," the CD, is both a history lesson and dance party…

Richard Kamins, Hartford Courant, June 17, 2004

…This is Eastern European Jewish music, mostly dance music. Sometimes there are hints of chamber music, as comes when three impeccable musicians play together as one. But, mostly this is the most rocking, roots klezmer album I have heard in years. … the music is incredibly, almost indescribably good.

There is a stunning suite of Crimean Tatar music and also a rare Karaite song, followed by improvisations and a pyrotechnic fiddle song performed on a scordatura violin. There are also original compositions, a suite with a bass and viola duet, traditional Jewish and Ukrainian dance tunes all accompanied by rich photographs and finely wrought essays (and even some family recipes) by each member of the trio.

Here’s a couple of facts. First, Josh and Stu are two of the world’s finest tsimbl players. And there are few instruments as good to listen to as the tsimbl. Second, Cookie is incendiary. I'm sure I said nice things about her playing on various albums over the years, because she is pretty incredible, but that was nothing. She tears the place up. Even better, where many klezmer musicians fall back on bluegrass when they are improvising klezmer and heading into the breaks, because that’s what they know best when they need more ideas, Cookie improvises something that sounds like, well, living, breathing, must-dance-to klezmer. Also note that these aren't just tunes, they're medleys of tunes in dance sets, including a sher set that is taking the Eastern European Jewish dance world (granted, not the largest subset of humanity) by storm. It just doesn't get any better than this, at least, not until their next album.

Order a Veretski Pass CD right NOW.

Ari Davidow, Klezmershack, 5/1/04

Those who prefer klezmer in a more neo-traditional vein will enjoy the self-titled debut CD on Golden Horn Records from Veretski Pass, an all-star klezmer trio featuring violinist Cookie Segelstein, tsimblist/accordionist Joshua Horowitz and bassist Stuart Brotman of Brave Old World. Veretski Pass favors an "early music" approach, playing its repertoire of Carpathian-Jewish melodies on 19th-century instruments, albeit with a distinctive 21st-century talent. The 32-page booklet includes mini-essays by each player and mouthwatering recipes from Segelstein's family cookbook.

Seth Rogovoy, FORWARD December 31, 2004

Sprightly and spirited old world klezmer (with a vaguely Celtic air, but that may just be my ears). This is close to a supergroup, with Cookie Siegelstein on violin, Josh Horowitz on accordion and tsimbl and Stuart Brotman on bass, and the results are every bit as impressive as the lineup would lead you to expect. Rating: *****

George Robinson. Jewish Week, New York, 11/19/04

…The bits of music cover a near mythical geography. Have you ever heard of Bessarabia, Ruthenia or Bukovina? These are some of the regions that come screaming out of the stereo. The tunes are at once familiar and from a strange other world — compelling in the same way that visiting a synagogue in a city where you can’t speak the language would be.

This is part of what makes this recording more than just a powerful st of unusual and archival melodies passionately performed. Veretski Pass reminds you through its slightly jumpy dissonance that our Jewish past isn’t necessarily knowable. Life in Europe for Jews 200 years ago is so far removed from our modern experience that perhaps the best vessel to understanding their lives is by submitting to a kind of confusion.

A Jewish teacher once said that Judaism is the practice of trying to grasp the ineffable. Veretski Pass is a fun way to start the journey toward grasping our ineffable Jewish history.

Jay Schwartz, Jewish News Weekly of Northern California, June 2004