Composer/klezmer and classical clarinetist David Krakauer has accrued a nice string of releases over the last five years, working with the under-distributed French Label Bleu imprint. 2001's A Hot One
went toward the jazzy end of klez and The Twelve Tribes
, from the following year, punched it up with a bit of a rock edge. But the surprise came in 2004, when he augmented his long-standing Klezmer Madness! band to include jazz guitar, accordion and sampler. The impact of the live record was considerable, but this followup, Bubbemeises
, is a more finely honed stab at the same formula.
What makes Krakauer stand out among the many klezmer acts which have circulated over the last decade is that he is essentially a modern traditionalist: he retains the playful spirit of the music and the focus on fast, energetic playing, but he never tries to pretend he's living in the past. Klezmer has always borrowed from other stylesCatskills entertainers of fifty years ago were famous for rewriting popular songs to include Jewish themes and Sephardic scales. Krakauer has likewise adapted bits of hip-hop into his mix, but he's too smart and too good a bandleader to let it be entirely cheap or hokey.
And he's able to pull it off in large part to the Montreal-based pianist, singer, rapper and beatbox programmer SoCalled, whose influence extends strongly across the record. SoCalled is able to conjure up the past, the "lies my gramma told me, through sound samples while keeping things fresh with propulsive (and decidedly canned) beats. It frees up accordionist Will Holshouser, guitarist Sheryl Bailey, electric bassist Nicki Parrott and drummer Michael Sarin to play Krakauer's lively compositions.
The band marked its leader's 50th birthday on December 2 at Zankel Hall with a concert that featured one set of "purer" klezmer readings, followed by a set with a second guitarist and a horn section led by funk legend Fred Wesley of the JB Horns. SoCalled held back on the samples, making the event feel more concert hall than dance hall, but Wesley more than made up for that. Like Maceo Parker, who was also a staple in James Brown's live bands, Wesley stayed tight in the midrange, demonstrating showmanship without getting showy. A decade ago, such a meeting of black and Jewish music would have been received as important and even symbolic. It was refreshing to hear just good, joyous music at the concert.
Personnel: David Krakauer: clarinet, bass clarinet, vocals; Sheryl Bailey: electric guitar; Will Holshouser: accordion; Nicki Parrott: acoustic bass, fretless electric bass; Trevor Dunn: electric bass; Michael Sarin: drums; Socalled: sampler, sequencer, vocals, accordion, organ; 99 Hooker: speaker; Phillip Shaw Bova: echoplex.