Krakauer’s Ancestral Groove

Checkpoint
Table Pounding Records TPR -003

Dobrek Bistro

Featuring David Krakauer

Dobrecords 006

Forty-odd years after enthusiasm for pre-Holocaust Eastern European Jewish music led to the so-called Klezmer Revival, its characteristics have seeped into other genres, while the traditional sound itself has mutated. Like folk songs, country Blues and reggae, Klezmer tropes have insinuated themselves into many non-Klez, non-Jewish musical projects. At the same time, like speculative researchers unsatisfied with the status quo in any field, some of the more sophisticated Klezmer practitioners have moved beyond emulation and re-creation to bring alien sonic strains onto the body of Klezmer works.

Take New York-based clarinetist David Krakauer for instance. Acclaimed for his command of Klezmer and notated music, he has ventured into improv, as well as mixing concepts such as hip hop and funk into his work. Right now a performance by the clarinetist’s Ancestral Groove band is as likely to reflect party night at a Latino dance club as simchas chosson vekallah entertainment at an Orthodox wedding ceremony. This is reflected on Checkpoint’s 10 tracks featuring Krakauer’s working group and some guests. Concurrently, like a Delta blues man such as John Lee Hooker who could always revisit the hard Blues no matter how many Rock and Pop star sessions in which he was involved, the reedist’s expertise in Eastern European music is often applied in disparate circumstances. This skill comes to the fore on the other CD where Krakauer guests with the Vienna-based Dobrek Bistro quartet. A polyglot combo with members of Polish, Russian, Austrian and Brazilian [!] background, the quartet isn’t a standard Balkan revival group either,

Consisting of Moscow-born violin and violist Aljosza Biz, Polish accordionist Kzysztof Dobrek, Viennese bassist and tar player Alexander Lackner and percussionist Luis Ribeiro from São Paulo, Dobrek Bistro has been together since 2000. Melding Oriental, Roma and Slavic styling with Latin American dance rhythms, the staccato toe-tapping result could be termed Balkan meets bossa nova. Throughout the CD’s 10 tracks Krakauer’s taut clarinet glissandi with its distinctive upwards cries or the chortles from his pumping bass clarinet are like distinctive adornments on the already festooned garments that are band-created melodies. Oftentimes he’s matched by spiccato outpouring from Biz’s fiddles and/or tremolo washes from Dobrek’s accordion. Adding contemporary flutter tonguing, a piece like the Galicia-saluting “Once upon a time in Galitsye” plays up the freylach inferences with a satisfying pulse both ceremonial and festive. Meanwhile “O mundo que eu vi” and “Adé Efgisa” are both simple dance tunes, the former with Portuguese roots and which mosaic-like contrasts the tick-tock drum beats with reed harmonies that advance the theme even as they break down into singular bites.

Meanwhile like a gallery displaying Picasso’s figurative and abstract paintings side by side, “Tanz der Schatten” and “Nocna Elegia” show the ad-hoc quintet’s contrasting strategies. With Biz’s’s fiddle strokes coming on like Bluegrass mandolin licks on the former tune, staccato dance rhythms move past Dobrek’s Balkan suggestions to brush against Rock insinuations, with Krakauer’s brutal vibration in the lead guitar role. “Nocna Elegia” in contrast is festooned with pomp and circumstance, with the accordion and fiddle both plainly dripping soothing Eastern European melodrama, with the only thematic extension from Krakauer’s horn.

This revealed eclecticism is splashed on a wider canvas on the Checkpoint CD. With guests such as organist John Medeski, guitarist Marc Ribot and accordionist Rob Curto adding the spices to the already distinctive musical goulash created by Krakauer, electric bassist Jerome Harris, drummer Michael Sarin, guitarist Sheryl Bailey plus Keepalive on sampler, the results go beyond diverse to all-embracing. How else to describe the two versions of “Tribe Number Thirteen”, which are built on samples of Orthodox cantors davening, but manage to prompt the liturgical senses even as pumped up Rock guitar licks and raunchy Jimmy McGriff-like soul organ riffs are as prominent as the clarinetist’s groundswell of tremolo runs.

That spirit of dualism is present throughout the disc with echoes of Eastern European glissandi making common cause with electric riffs from the East Bronx and freylech timbres taking turns with free-styling. If a chunky reggae–styled lick come from the guitarist it’s very likely to be followed by the swaying splatters of a Balkan-styled accordion. Bailey’s tensile virtuosity is most unambiguous when you compare her Jim Hall-like finger-style story-telling that counters tempo doubling from reed quivers on “Krakowsky Boulevard”, with her work on “Las Incantadas III” where shrieking riffs could come from a highly amplified violin. Like a ballerina effortlessly tossing off a pirouette while waiting for an on-stage entrance, Krakauer confirms his instrumental command in an unaccompanied turn on “Synagogue Wail”. Breaking the line down to its neurons, bouncing textures off the structure’s walls and constructing overlapping call-and-response without overdubbing he confirms his reputation.

But the pleasures of Checkpoint aren’t confined to virtuosity. There’s the warmth the band brings to Hispanic-tinged numbers as well as tracks like “Elijah Walks In” and “Moldavian Voyage” whose jokey and punning titles mix the haymish with the imaginative. Ribot’s hard chicken-scratching twanging solo brings a bit of Memphis funk to Minsk flunken on the first tune, with Krakauer’s laughing glissandi not only calming in its heightened pitch but also evolving with enough polyphony to knit together disparate melodic paths. Nothing like Herbie Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage”, this Carpathian saluting trip is more like a soup consisting of disparate items simmered into a delicious broth. Sampled melismatic synagogue chants season an impassionedly swinging drum beat with clarinet direction spooning the results into delectable bite-sized portions.

On its own, Checkpoint confirms that if Krakauer’s compositional and improvisational skills were applied to cooking he would be a master chef. Furthermore the other CD proves that these culinary talents are portable enough to add the proper spice to whatever dish with which he’s presented.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Checkpoint: 1. Kickin' It For You 2. Krakowsky Boulevard 3. Tribe Number Thirteen* 4. Checkpoint Lounge 5. Elijah Walks In 6. Moldavian Voyage 7. Synagogue Wail 8. Border Town Pinball Machine~ 9. Tandal; 10. Tribe Number Thirteen

Personnel: Checkpoint: David Krakauer (clarinet); John Medeski (organ*); Rob Curto (accordion~); Sheryl Bailey or Marc Ribot+ (guitar); Jerome Harris (electric bass); Michael Sarin (drums) and Keepalive (sampler)

Track Listing: Featuring: 1. Aravá 2. Sedmaček 3. Las Incantadas I 4. Tanz der Schatten 5. Nocna Elegia 6. Las Incantadas II 7. O mundo que eu vi 8. Adé Efgisa 9. Las Incantadas III 10. Once upon a time in Galitsye

Personnel: Featuring: David Krakauer (clarinet and bass clarinet); Aljosza Biz (violin and viola); Kzysztof Dobrek (accordion); Alexander Lackner (bass and tar) and Luis Ribeiro (drums, percussion set and hybrid percussion)