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Andy Statman: Blue Grass and Black Hats

Elliott Simon By

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Through three decades of dedication, Andy Statman has reached a high plane. The youthful exuberance of discovery has been supplanted by mature enlightenment and musical self-realization. Coltrane comes to mind as another artist whose spiritual development became so inextricably intertwined with his music that he and his art became one.

As a clarinetist and interpreter of traditional Chassidic melodies, Statman is clearly in a modern Jewish music class by himself. As a mandolinist and interpreter of American roots music, he is a bluegrass innovator with lightning fast technique.

Individually, these two new offerings, released in tandem, showcase both Statman's mandolin mastery and the rarefied place that he and his clarinet continue to occupy in Jewish music.

Andy Statman
East Flatbush Blues
Shefa Records
2006

East Flatbush Blues begins with two tunes composed by bluegrass creator Bill Monroe, and proceeds through a program of self composed and traditional music. Statman—who prior to discovering his own ethnic roots music in the late 1970s brought a new spin to traditional bluegrass, with an exciting meld of blazing runs, jazz creativity and avant-garde originality—here delivers his first all-mandolin album in 25 years.

None of the luster is gone as he rips through traditional tunes like "Arkansas Traveler and "Golden Slippers while turning "Old Joe Clark? on to the new music. Statman's rhythm section of bassist Jim Whitney and drummer/percussionist Larry Eagle is perfectly understated throughout, the two musicians allowing Statman plenty of room.

Both players do, however, take their due, with Whitney adding his own turn to the glide of "Roots Waltz and Eagle setting a sprightly tempo for "17, before the title cut offers its decidedly slow walkin' blue perspective on the famed Brooklyn neighborhood. "Uman leaves bluegrass behind for a balalaikan feel that features gorgeous arco bass moments and a fiery outro.

Andy Statman
Awakening From Above
Shefa Records
2006

While East Flatbush Blues is evidence that Statman has matured as a mandolinist without sacrificing a step, Awakening From Above bares his soul. Consisting of melodies that are a part of the Jewish liturgy, improvisations and Chassidic nigguns, Statman's playing is truly inspired as his horn chants songs of devotion, joy and sadness. Liner notes for each song scrupulously detail their origins and serve as a scholarly addition.

Following a soaring presentation of clarinet virtuosity on the heartfelt "Yedid Nefesh (My Soul's Beloved) , Statman alternates between cantorial power and jazzman's inventiveness on the familiar melody, "Merciful One, Answer Us. The century old melody of the "Hallel is powerfully exposed in the context of a sparse drumbeat before Statman overdubs his mandolin with screaming Eb clarinet for a bit of "Forshpiel (Improvisation) .

A frenzied "Rikkud (Dance) whirls as if possessed, leading into the achingly beautiful line of "Yechadsheyhu (Renew us, O God)" that is lovingly buttressed by Whitney's bow. Using an antique Eb instrument, Statman reaches back to antiquity in a stirring performance of "Yaakov Avinu Niggun (The Patriarch Jacob's Song) that wonderfully leads into a lively improvisatory duet with Eagle on clay drum and drum set.

In a performance filled with highlights, Statman concludes with an awe inspiring extended doina (free metered improvisation) based on "Reb Michel Zlotchover's Deveykus Niggun, played on the clarinet bequeathed to him by renowned 20th century klezmer clarinetist, Dave Tarras.

While stylistically dissimilar, taken together these releases impeccably define Statman's unique musical oneness.


Tracks and Personnel

East Flatbush Blues

Tracks: Rawhide!; Blue Grass Stomp; Arkansas Traveler; Golden Slippers; Roots Waltz; 17; East Flatbush Blues; Sweet Potatoe; Uman; The Memphis Jacques; Old Joe Clark; The 'Sensitive' Waltz.

Personnel: Andy Statman: mandolin, Eb- clarinet (11); Jim Whitney: double bass; Larry Eagle: drums, percussion.

Awakening From Above

Tracks: Yedid Nefesh (My Soul's Beloved); Merciful One, Answer Us; Praise; Forshpiel (Improvisation); Rikkud (Dance); Yechadsheyhu (Renew us, O God); Come, My Beloved; Yaakov Avinu Niggun (The Patriarch Jacob's Song); Meron Improvisation; Master Of The Universe; Breslev 'Days Of Awe' Melody; Modzitz Waltz; Welcoming The Sabbath; Improvisation.

Personnel: Andy Statman: Eb and Bb clarinets, mandolin (4); Jim Whitney: double bass; Larry Eagle: drums, percussion.


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