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David Krakauer: A New Hot One

Clarinetists like David Krakauer don’t grow on trees. From a technical standpoint the classically trained Krakauer is superb. His improvising is unique and immediately recognizable; he’s synthesized the styles of klezmer clarinetists and New Orleans jazz great Sidney Bechet, frequently employing glissandi and a heavy vibrato. Moreover, Krakauer performs fiercely, almost primitively; the way he spits notes reminds me of the playing of a shofar (ram’s horn) player. Krakauer, impressive though he is, can be criticized for his indifference to pacing and construction. He doesn’t seem to conceive of a solo as a whole, doesn’t connect his phrases or build particularly well and, considering the variety of musical forms he’s familiar with, employs a relatively limited vocabulary.

Krakauer was for some time a member of The Klezmatics, and he still works in a modern klezmer genre. He can be heard on A New Hot One with electric guitarist Mark Stewart, accordionist Ted Reichman, bassists Pablo Aslan or Nicky Parrott and avant-garde jazz drummer Kevin Norton.

Krakauer’s klezmer repertoire is relatively traditional here. The title track is a reworked version of a standard, “The Hot Bulgar.” He employs older European forms: doina, sher, sirba and hora. The charts used by Krakauer’s band, however, will not be confused with those of 1920s stars Naftule Brandwein and Dave Tarras. Krakauer’s klezmer music has an unusual dark side; some, like “Klezdryx,” are rock-influenced and/or dissonant.

All of the musicians on A New Hot One are impressive. Norton plays a lot more actively than most klezmer drummers, and he’s a strong, inventive percussionist regardless of idiom. Reichman’s adventurousness and harmonic sophistication deserve praise. Stewart performs with slashing forcefulness.

Originally Published