Clarinetist David Krakauer has been exploring his Eastern European Jewish background through music for the past quarter century. He's managed to touch on his roots in varied ways during that time, tapping into Jewish history with some help from the Kronos Quartet on The Dreams And Prayers Of Isaac The Blind
(Nonesuch, 1997), finding common ground for the work of the great Sidney Bechet
and klezmer clarinetist Naftule Brandwein on Klezmer, NY
(Tzadik, 1998), interpreting the music of John Zorn
's Masada on Pruflas: The Book Of Angels, Volume 18
(Tzadik, 2012), and bringing tradition and unconventional thought into the same room with Klezmer Madness. Each one of those projects, in essence, is a branch growing from the same tree, and the same can certainly be said for this one.
In recalling his lineage-tracing Eastern European travel experiences in the late '80s, Krakauer notes the extreme contrast between the bleakness of border checkpoints and the warmth and energy of the people he met once he passed through them. Those encounters helped him to tap into the heartbeat of his ancestors and to understand where he really comes from, ultimately informing the music that appears here. Checkpoint
, as with many of Krakauer's albums, uses incongruity to its advantage. Ancestral Groove takes seemingly disparate ideas and manages to use them as stabilizing forces that balance each other out. Hebraic strains are set off against samples and beats, zany thoughts meet with relatively fixed elements, and joy and sadness allay one another in fascinating ways. The core musicians add to the architectural designs and strengthen the music with their respective gifts. Drummer Michael Sarin
, bassist Jerome Harris
, and sampler whiz Jeremy Flower (a.k.a. Keepalive) form the rhythmic chassis that carries everything along; guitarist Sheryl Bailey
solos with glee, colors the middle ground, and adds some searing heat; and Krakauer works magic over all of it, bringing his distinctive voice to the fore.
There are worlds of contrast to be found in the interactions between those musicians, but Krakauer isn't averse to further shaking things up. Added variety comes with the addition of a gripping solo clarinet performance ("Synagogue Wail"), a live number recorded at The Stone in New York City ("Tandal"), and one-off guest appearances from organist John Medeski
("Tribe Number Thirteen"), guitarist Marc Ribot
("Elijah Walks In"), and accordionist Rob Curto
("Border Town Pinball Machine"). Checkpoint
, on the whole, proves to be an audacious and addictive blend of past and present. When it comes to feeding new art with genealogy and experience, David Krakauer is really in a class by himself.