Most of us don't have an exhaustive knowledge of the history of harmonica playing. We might associate it with old blues musicians, perhaps Neil Young and Bob Dylan, and of course, John Popper. To those in the harmonica world, however, one of the biggest names is Howard Levy, who developed a style that allows him to play chromatically on a diatonic harmonica (designed to play only certain notes of the scale). Few others have mastered the diatonic the way Levy has.
One of Levy's most notable protégés is Jason Rosenblatt of Montreal, whose klezmer-jazz-blues band Shtreiml plays Howler's Coyote Café on Tue., March 4. Rosenblatt received a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts to study under Levy, and is considered one of the foremost diatonic harmonica players in the world.
With Shtreiml, Rosenblatt's playing is a far cry from the Delta blues; he displays a precision befitting a classically trained musician. At times, it's reminiscent of those intricate Popper solos that are still burnt into our minds from the mid-'90s. But the tunes that back Rosenblatt up, provided by a group of klezmer and fusion musicians from Montreal and Philadelphia, are a far cry from Blues Traveler.
Shtreiml's most recent album, Fenci's Blues, does mix in an element of the blues tradition. But, on the whole, the band alternates between jazz fusion and all-out traditional klezmer and Turkish folk. Time signatures tend toward the complicated -- 7/4 isn't that unusual here -- and when the harmonica is resting, Rosenblatt's electric piano picks up the slack. The result is an act that has something for both the folk purist and the harmonica historian.
Shtreiml with Ishtar. 8 p.m. Tue., March 4 (21 and over). Howler's Coyote Café, 4509 Liberty Ave., Bloomfield. $7. 412-361-2262
- Harmonica mundi: Shtreiml