The packaging of the new Klezmer Madness CD, The Twelve Tribes, combines the ancient symbols for each of the twelve tribes of Israel with a World Trade Center intact view of downtown New York City. The CD itself is also a juxtaposition of Jewish themes, klezmer influence and NYC downtown jazz with rock, blues, Latin and even techno. The result is an album that is a delight to listen to while at times challenging the listener to redefine their views of both klezmer and jazz.
The title piece kicks the album off with a solid bass and drum line that would do any blues/rock band proud over which Krakauer plays a catchy jazz melody and alternates solos with some hot electric guitar. It is this genre that Klezmer Madness excels at, that mixture of musical styles that breathes new life into traditional klezmer infusing it with guitar, drum and bass and in the process speaks to a new generation. Krakauer has brought together some top downtown New York City Jazz Musicians such as Nicki Parrott on bass and Kevin Norton on percussion. Each of these musicians have several solid CDs to their credit. This is a klezmer/jazz album, but all of it has a jazz/blues almost rock edge provided by Kevin O’Neil’s guitar playing.
Certain cuts such as Kozatske/Der Ziser, the latter a Naftule Brandwein tune, fall somewhat short, and the electric guitar/clarinet mix doesn’t quite come together as it should. The Gypsy Bulgar, best known as a hammered dulcimer tune from the 1930s, is brilliant in its ability to keep the feel of the original while using the guitar to update the music and make it a Klezmer Madness piece.
On all the tracks David Krakauer’s playing is, well, David Krakauer. It is distinctive, it is his sound, and from the first note you know whom you are listening to. The tone has a clarity and the sound a feel that is unparalleled in the world of klez/jazz bands. Queen of the Midnight Fax is a clarinet meditation piece over a Latin sounding rhythm that has the seductiveness of Ravel’s Bolero. Table Pounding is similar, with a repetitive escalating beat that mirrors a group of people around a table singing and pounding louder and louder. This is new music that mixes styles at will. You come away with the feeling that the band has a huge spice rack of all possible musical styles at its disposal. They add a dash of Latin, a few teaspoons of rock and even a tablespoon of 60’s television schmaltz to their basic feel to come up with a sound that breaks new ground. Is that the theme from the Munsters in Television Frailachs?
Chusen Kale Mazel Tov and the Dave Tarras Bulgar are familiar and fans of the band will feel very at home when they listen to them. As If, the closing piece on the CD mixes techno beat with Krakauer clarinet playing. Always mixing always trying new combinations while at the same time staying true to the roots. Der Gasn Nign, appears again on this CD, as it did on Klezmer NY. This version is more soulful and slow, funeral dirgelike with the clarinet crying out for the lost souls in the streets of NY. As the melody is mutated and escalated to the end of the piece, the band joins into a tension building crescendo that is released by a final simple repetition of the clarinet line.
The New Year After is a testimony to the events of 911. This complicated and powerful piece was inspired during the Jewish New Year service one week to the day after September 11th. By using the chant structure of a long full note followed by 2 short staccato note measures followed again by the long full note the clarinet and electric guitar present the idea that what was once whole and is now broken will become whole again. This album presents a band that is extending its boundaries further than the three previous CDs. One hopes that they will never run out of new musical combinations, will continue to take risks and to break new ground in their redefining of both jazz and klezmer.