Klezmer Magic at the Tonic

Elliott Simon By

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New York
June 2, 2002

Not being a musician I can only surmise what musical challenges composing for and performing with a mid-sized jazz ensemble pose.
Sunday morning, get there early around 10 am. Cruise the streets: Rivington, Orchard, Stanton, and Delancey. Peruse the vendors on Orchard and strike a bargain. Look at some of the nine historic synagogues within walking distance. Visit the Tenement Museum. Go to the “Streitz” matzoh store. Get something to eat; the new brunch on Essex or the nova and onion omelet at Ratner’s and if Klezmer Madness is playing the Tonic, get in line by noon to hear the band warming up.
David Krakauer’s Klezmer Madness kicked off their next European tour by rocking the Tonic once again with a tight program that showcased the band’s royal jazz pedigree. The musicians merged old and new and created a klezmer sound that took the audience on a journey to the musical edges of the genre and back again. This incarnation of KM featured Kevin Norton (drums), Mark Stewart (guitar), Will Holshouser (accordion), and Conrad Korsch (bass).
The Tonic klezmer brunch is a special place where the audience is filled with mothers and fathers their mothers and fathers and their grandchildren Throw into this mix the occasional visit by downtown jazz musicians, assorted freaks and punks and there are all the ingredients for a unique musical experience. I am struck by the grandmother in her eighties who is in line after me “David shouldn’t be playing so much now, he will tire himself out for the show” No way grandma. When it all works, as it did this day, it is klezmer magic. Let’s start with a medley of tunes in Bflat. Krakauer rips freilachs with astonishing speed and breath control. I am an avowed Nicki Parrott fan and am ready to be disappointed by the “new” bassist. I’m not. Among other credits, Conrad Korsch is featured on the Broadway cast recording of “Swing” and is one of the best up and coming bassists in New York City. I later find out that he played with KM on their last tour of Europe. I close my eyes and feel the beat that Conrad is laying down with Kevin and Will. How does David get these musicians to sound so good together? The sound is electric. I open my eyes and see Mark Stewart rubbing his guitar and doing strange things to it with saliva and the crowd is rocking. I look back at the bar and, could it be? Nicki Parrott is pogoing to the sound with her sister Lisa.

Moskowitz’s Gypsy Bulgar mixed with the theme from James Bond took the crowd back to the Lower East Side of 60 years ago with a new twist. A somewhat impromptu guitar and clarinet doina duet followed. Mark Stewart laid down the palette and David Krakauer mesmerized the audience with his improvising. Old and new again as we are treated to a pair of terkish; the familiar terkish tantz and Krakauer’s terkish tribute to jazz clarinet legend Sydney Bechet. A new bulgar is world premiered and is one of the highlights of the day. With a working title of “A Portrait of Klezmer Madness”, Will Holshouser stepped to the fore as he took us through every key the band plays in. For Kosatzke/Der Ziser off “Twelve Tribes”, guitar strings fly around the stage and Krakauer pelvic thrusts his way through clarinet playing that is summoned from somewhere only he has been. I have visions of when this is over he is taken back to that place to be brought out again for the next show. Love Song for Lemberg/Lvov mixed its beautiful melody with avant- noiz in a retelling of David’s visit to his grandfather’s birthplace. Nicki Parrott stops dancing and joins the band onstage for a final doina with David on bass clarinet. The set ends all too soon with two more bulgars and the SRO crowd is spent. Is a live album at the Tonic a possibility?


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