Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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The Comedian Harmonists

  • The Comedian Harmonists [Hannibal, 1999] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

The Comedian Harmonists [Hannibal, 1999]
About 10 years ago, I fell for these Weimar pop phenoms in a five-hour documentary at the Public, where they performed American standards and trombone imitations in the vocal and sartorial regalia of the finest Lieder singers. The effect is somewhat less vivid on this, their first-ever U.S. release--although their harmonies penetrate, their comedy sometimes doesn't. But listen to them gurgle in tune before breaking into perfect German gibberish on "Kannst du pfeifen, Johanna?" and you'll get the idea. Beautywise they lived off the tenor of restaurant singer Ari Leschnikoff, likened by archivist Joe Boyd to Edith Piaf and Oum Kalsoum, though the Klezmatics' Lorin Sklamberg is more the point. A Bulgarian, he was one of the "Aryans" who got to stay in Germany when Goering deported the Jewish founder and his two fellow mongrelizers in 1935--they were too famous to kill, at least in 1935. In the film, he's a thin old man in a dreary Sofia housing project. He hasn't heard his own records in decades. He listens and weeps. A-