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David Krakauer: Live in Krakow

In klezmer music, a clarinet and accompanying accordion play in minor to very-minor keys, and the songs are highly ornamented melodic lines full of trills, vibratos, melismas and bent tones in repeated four-bar cadences. David Krakauer’s Klezmer Madness makes it fusion music by ingeniously mixing thundering rock and funk beats, samba and hambone rhythms and metallic jazz-rock guitar with the form’s traditional melodic-harmonic foundation. Though klezmer is historically Eastern European Jewish music, to me it sounds very Eastern Mediterranean. Its dependence on a few minor modes may suggest a limited scope, but as Live in Krakow proves that to the contrary, this music offers a range of emotions from whimsy and tenderness to sorrowing darkness.

Klezmer Madness is a close band with tight arrangements. The rousing opener “Turntable Pounding” has at least six layers of activity, from slow, booming bass drum through rock guitar to high, hyperactive vocal. A slow tribute to historic klezmer clarinetist Naftule Brandwein has a fast middle section with gathering ensemble density, topped by Krakauer’s near-Dixieland clarinet; when the rhythm stops, a passage of free-ensemble improvisation ensues. The ambitious waltz “Love Song for Lemberg/Lvov” finds each sweet phrase invaded and halted by dissonant, chaotic chords-“The screams of the Jewish dead,” Krakauer says.

There’s a klezmer tribute to Sidney Bechet, too, but you must stretch to deduce a Bechet influence. Krakauer is a mobile, potent clarinetist with a big sound who can also play unusually softly, and it’s his energy that powers this sextet. While accordionist Will Holshouser is almost wholly an accompanist, his sympathy with the leader and the richness of his imagination makes him equally important to the music’s success.

Originally Published