David Krakauer's Klezmer Madness!
Between clarinetist David Krakauer and pianist Uri Caine there is an obvious affinity. Krakauer's 21st-century klezmer music, as he writes in the program notes for this concert, is "all about a meeting of the generations in a spirit of dialogue between past and present." Caine, in his notes, tells us of his aim in recent years to "make explicit the connections between Mahler's music and [k]lezmer music, and then between fin-de-siècle Vienna and world of Eastern European Jewry." One can also add that both Krakauer and Caine share a fascination with DJ culture, and have woven its future-oriented beats into their Old World music in different ways.
These two important figures joined forces, with mixed results, at Zankel Hall, the beautiful (and beautiful-sounding) new room underneath Carnegie Hall. Following a brief introductory "Street Song" by Krakauer's Klezmer Madness! ensemble, Caine walked on for the world premiere of his "Ambiguous Identity" suite, which occupied the concert's first half. The piece sounded like a condensed, hasty version of one of Caine's magisterial Mahler projects -- and it did in fact include some snippets of Mahler material.
The players handled the suite expertly. Caine's piano touch was meditative yet bold; Sheryl Bailey, who often plays in earthy organ trio contexts, here delved into a postmodern rock bag, playing a Parker solid-body and unleashing an impressive arsenal of sounds. (Her ultra-distorted chords sounded uncannily like string pads.) Accordionist Will Holshouser, bassist Nicki Parrot and drummer Michael Sarin rounded out the tight, versatile lineup. But as Caine's piece wandered from one feel to the next -- dark dirge-like melodies, funk, fast jazz, oom-pah, a breakneck klezmer finale -- so too did the mind wander. The rubato breaks that separated the sections seemed a rote device as time passed. This polyglot approach works better when, as on his Winter & Winter albums, Caine takes time to develop each idea and let it settle with the listener.
In the second half, the grand piano disappeared. It was replaced, on the opposite side of the stage, by the electronic paraphernalia of Socalled, the Montreal beatmeister who figures prominently on Krakauer's latest Label Bleu release, Krakauer Live in Krakow. The set list consisted of tunes from that compelling album, beginning with "Klezmer a la Bechet," which was transformed into a dissonant funk "remix" courtesy of Socalled.
The set's high point was "Offering Nign," which began as a remarkable soliloquy for bass clarinet and slowly evolved into a full-band wail. (Inspired in part by Eric Dolphy, "Offering" is from a larger work written for the contemporary dancers Eiko and Koma.) "Song for Lemberg/Lvov," a dark waltz broken up by tightly cued outbursts of frenzied sound, took its name from the birthplace of Krakauer's grandfather. Lvov, in present-day Ukraine, was known as Lemberg during the days of the Austro-Hungarian empire. The historical thrust of this tribute was sobering, but Socalled returned to lighten the mood on the closing "B-flat Major Bulgar," with intricate beats and samples that brought Stereolab to mind. Returning for an unannounced encore, Krakauer displayed more of the clarinet mastery that anchored the entire show. His high notes spoke with expressive power and technical control; his circular breathing feats were something to behold.