Squeezed onto the stage with a dozen of his bandmates, David Chevan counted off a raucous number that immediately set the audience clapping in rhythm. With a sliding trombone, assertive flutes, and the steady four-count of the bass line, it was the kind of sound that won’t let you fall back in your seat. The audience bounced in their chairs and called out encouragements until the song ended on a punch. Attendees erupted in applause.
“Nakht in Gan Eyden” was just one of many lively tunes Nu Haven Kapelye played Tuesday night during its annual Hanukkah Extravaganza at The Rough Draft in Hamden. The band drew a crowd of around 40 to a show that felt more like spending the holiday at your favorite aunt’s house than a concert.
Midway through the set, band member Hedda Rubenstein put down her flute and picked up a microphone as Jackie Sidle joined her on stage for some Hanukkah songs. The pair perform as The Seltzer Sisters and have been singing with each other and the band for almost a decade.
“This is why you’re all here. This song,” Chevan told the audience as the band struck up “Hanukkah, Oh, Hanukkah.”
“And while we are playing, the candles are burning low,” the Seltzer Sisters sang before the group segued into “Sivivon, Sov, Sov, Sov” — little dreidel, spin, spin, spin.
The audience seemed to sink into the music, moving chairs to accommodate friends and family members while laughing and catching up. Plates of latkes with sides of applesauce and sour cream and dishes of mac and cheese fritters with spicy cheese sauce both made their way to the tables, and the smell of crisp, fresh, fried goodies filled the air.
As the band began to play “Londonischer Nign,” saxophone and flute alternately took up the kind of soulful melody that makes something in your chest swell. The audience responded with cheers for the musicians as the rhythm section played a slow, marching beat. The band came in singing a wordless tune. The song ended with a clarinet improvisation from Eran Avni-Singer that left the audience yearning for more.
Then Rubenstein decided to lighten the mood by confessing she buys her latkes from Costco.
Sidle feigned shock. “But you always make them!” she said, her hand across her chest.
The pair cut up during the bands rendition of “Dreydl, Dreydl,” which the group turned into a laid-back bluesy number, full of syncopation and trombone riffs. After a few verses, Sidle and Rubenstein started trading jokes that elicited chuckles or groans, depending on the audience member.
“So listen up,” she said. “Moishe was standing on the train platform…”
“Those are old, Jewish jokes from the Borscht Belt,” Rubenstein said after the show, referencing a mid-century resort area in the Catskills that catered to Jewish families who were often unwelcome at other resorts. Entertainers and comedians like Mel Brooks got their start playing the resort circuit.
“Last year, we made it a tradition to include jokes,” and the singers gathered a fresh batch for 2018, she said.
Changing the pace, Nu Haven Kapelye featured flutist Anna Reisman on “Dovidl Bazezt die Kalleh,” her plaintive melody cutting through the room. Then the violins came in, hand-plucking a countermelody while bass and trombone supported the sound. The countermelodies continued throughout the song, morphing and changing like a conversation between the different sections of the band.
Immediately after, the band launched into “Kostakowsky Bulgar #2” a short and furious number with a driving rhythm, inspiring a couple of children to get up and dance. The tempo seemed to accelerate as the song went on and soon the children were dancing with such abandon, their grandmother was inspired to join in.
Ages in the audience ranged from five to 95, and it’s that inclusive, family atmosphere that the Seltzer Sisters most love about Nu Haven Kapelye and the Hanukkah Extravaganza.
“I love the music and I love the spirit. It’s like a reunion,” Sidle said.
Rubinstein agreed. “It’s a fun audience and they get into it,” she said. “We’re among friends.”
Nu Haven Kapelye will be playing monthly Klezmer nights at The Rough Draft starting on Jan. 8 and Feb. 19. The group will also be playing has a show Dec. 25 at Congregation Mishakan Israel in Hamden. More information on that here.