A New Hot One – David Krakaeur
Label Bleu 6617
To say that this was the most anticipated klezmer release within the last year probably doesn't mean that much to you. And the fact that it is the album I
was most looking forward to in quite some time probably doesn't mean that much to you, either. But whether or not you even know what klezmer is – Eastern
European Jewish folk music (think Hava Nagila, but with dignity) – if you're interested in exciting new music like nothing you've ever heard before, you
should check this disc out.
This is not a traditional klezmer album. While Krakauer does play the clarinet (an instrument he describes as "the electric guitar of klezmer music"), his band includes effect-loving electric guitarist Mark Stewart and avant-garde jazz batteur Kevin Norton, in addition to accordionist Ted Reichman and
bassists Pablo Aslan and Nicky Parrott. The music which results from this eclectic group of musicians is an energetic melange which manages to remember its
roots. While recalling elements from the realms of jazz, rock, and classical music, this CD is – first and foremost – a klezmer album. It is decidedly
Jewish music, a product of the Eastern European Jewish music tradition. But it is Jewish music that has gone through the minefield of the twentieth century and not
come out unscathed — screaming, crying, frenetically clawing at the walls, but also wise and worldly.
And it is an absolute joy to listen to. While it may shroud itself in an eerie darkness, the album also has moments of absolute blissful ascension. David
Krakauer is a monster clarinetist. Unparalleled in the klezmer world and very highly regarded in the jazz and classical worlds, too, he makes the
instrument sing, weep, and wail with the natural, unpretentious clarity of a songbird, the boundless energy of a two-year-old, and the power of a freight
train. His utter mastery of the clarinet is almost enough to make anyone who calls himself a serious student of the instrument want to quit and sulk at
his own incapacity. In Krakauer's playing, he tells stories – of his grandfather's hometown today, of the day two of his friends fell in love, of how he thinks
klezmer might have sounded if played by jazz legend Sidney Bechet – and he also makes people want to dance.
In one sense, this album is Jewish art music. The original songs employ a variety of textures, colors, and styles to tell stories and evoke certain
emotions. The traditional tunes are remade with squealing electric guitar, complicated rhythmic accompaniment, freely improvised introductions and
winks and nods to various great musicians of the last hundred years. But in another sense this album is Jewish party music. In all of the updating and
refashioning, the music has not lost its fundamental danceable core. Listening to it, I almost expected a circle of enthusiastic dancers to come storming
through my door, lift me up in my chair and parade me around the room.
The album, is, of course, not without its faults. The original songs, which often are relatively short on melodic material and spend a lot of time in long-held-note improvisations, tend to go on a little too long. Also, Stewart's guitar playing, while sometimes stupendous, tends to feel a bit stylistically ignorant, at least in the bounds of klezmer.
In general, my favorite parts of the album are the reworked traditional songs. The Russian Shers shows the band at its best. Krakauer augments his
stellar performance of this medley of traditional folk dance tunes with his trademark, improvisatory long-note wailing. Underneath him, Stewart rumbles
along with a buzzing rhythmic guitar line and Norton bangs away in a wild fusion of klezmer, latin, military and jazz styles. And the concluding
Simcha Gone Mad Medley is a twisted romp through a few of the songs commonly heard at Jewish weddings and other celebrations. It builds to an incredible climax of Krakauer and Stewart attempting to outsqueal each other in the upper registers
of their respective instruments before Krakauer wins out and Stewart launches into a Miserlou that would make Dick Dale smile conspiratorially.