Ten years ago, clarinetist David Krakauer recorded Klezmer Madness!
, the first release for John Zorn's groundbreaking Tzadik: Radical Jewish Culture Series. Since that time, Krakauer has remained true to his soul while continuing to expand the definitional boundaries of his music. A stylist who combines impeccable technique and prodigious chops with distinctive fingerings, overblows and circular breathing, he coaxes sounds from his horn that amaze. With power, phrasing, speed and articulation that coalesce in a way that is unmistakable, Krakauer is part of that rarefied pantheon of instrumentalists who truly have a signature sound.
With such outstanding instrumental abilities, it would have been easy for Krakauer to follow in the footsteps of his predecessors. The truth however, is that in addition to being the most original klezmer clarinetist of his generation, he is a world class classical clarinetist and employs his deep understanding of the diverse jazz traditions of Sidney Bechet, Eric Dolphy, and Ornette Coleman in both these genres. With this jazzman's sense of form and instrumental context, Krakauer appeals to the finest NYC jazz musicians and has constructed what is now one of the best and tightest working bands in world music, the appropriately named, Klezmer Madness!. Add to all this, a love of funk, a respect for the Yiddish musical tradition and an awareness of social issues, and one can begin to get a sense of what a KM! performance can be like.
It is against this backdrop that the current constellation of KM! recently previewed their forthcoming CD, Bubbemeises: Lies My Gramma Told Me, at the East Village venue, Joes Pub. A sold out cross generational audience of over 200 witnessed Krakauer with guitarist Sheryl Bailey, bassist Nicki Parrott, Michael Sarin on drums and accordionist Rob Curto deliver two hot sets consisting of revamped nuggets from previous albums and a heavy dose of new material. Sampler-man Socalled, a significant presence on Krakauer Live in Krakow has clearly now become a vital part of the overall KM! sound. Sarin and Socalled beautifully meshed percussion and sampler to create interesting timbres and rhythmic interactions with Socalled playing second accordion on the more traditional offerings.
The evening began with "Der Gasn Nign , a hauntingly stunning time-honored piece that Krakauer has made his sobriquet street song. Its post Sept 11 poignancy was beautifully portrayed by Sarin's dirge like snare drum opening and Bailey's exquisitely light chordal touch. This rich sound palette was ripe for Krakauer's slow-build of the melody into a powerfully moving statement. Favorites continued with the familiar, but always exhilarating multiple changes of "Russian Sher . Bailey improvised the opener while Curto comped on accordion setting the stage for Krakman to soar through the piece and juice the crowd. This was followed by the Krakauer original "Klezmer a la Bechet , a klez/jazz tribute to a hypothetical NYC meeting between clarinet contemporaries klezmer king Naftule Brandwein and Sidney Bechet. Bailey opened with a ringing statement of the intriguing, but now familiar, riff and was soon joined by Parrott's stylized staccato rhythm. Parrott, who played her fretless electric all night, shone with a solo that highlighted her ability to fuse jazz, funk and rock with thrilling results.
Socalled's samples signaled the beginning of "Bubbemeises , a satirically sharp paean to the "Superstitious devices, urban mythological rules and bubbemeises that grandmothers spread to succeeding generations. Sarin capably navigated the multirhythmic fabric and played off, with and around all of the programmed beats while Parrotts's bass guitar and Krakauer's bass clarinet traded off the melody. The alluringly deep textural capabilities of bass clarinet were then exposed with an ode to a special lady from Winston-Salem, "Ms. N.C. Next, it was Bailey's turn to rip through remarkable runs as guitar and clarinet melodically dueled over the wall shaking beat box rhythm of "Moskovitz and Loops of It that featured a wonderful Rob Curto accordion solo. Things were then ratcheted up even further as Bailey and Krakauer fired off screaming leads on the room shaker, "Turntable Pounding .
One of the evening's highlights was the reworking of the Aaron Lebedeff classic "Rumania, Rumania . A song so overdone that it can become more novelty than anthem, KM! recast the piece and subsequently recaptured its power. Krakauer ably handled the vocal honors, but first dedicated the piece to those who have suffered oppression and implored the audience to "not take freedom for granted . Presented in a dramatically rearranged style, the initial slower tempo made for a prolonged tension building experience, that evoked anger and despair for subjugated people everywhere. Socalled then broke the tension and instilled a pride in survival by drawing on both Lebedeff and the great Moishe Oysher for inspiration, as he rapidly rapped the conventional Hasidic skat.
Rounding out the program were two exceptional drum doinas from Sarin, who deftly merged his jazz chops with the Jewish improvisational format; this led into spirited renditions of "Chusen Kale Mazel Tov . Curto again impressed with a gorgeous solo on the final encore number, an emotional tribute to Krakauer's ancestral roots, "Love Song for Lemberg/Lvov . David Krakauer's KM! is the premiere group of musicians expanding the borders of traditional Jewish music into contemporary formats that include jazz, funk, rock and now hip-hop. The show at Joe's Pub augurs well for their approach; a unification of expert musicianship with a deeply rooted soulful spirit.
Mike Getzin and PaweÅ‚ Å»uk