Clarinetist David Krakauer's new live CD is a testament to the continuing vitality of Klezmer music. Klezmer is an improvisational form with roots in the Jewish ghettos of Eastern Europe and, like the people that created it, owes its continued relevance to its ability to assimilate within other cultures while maintaining its original identity and integrity. In America during the twentieth century jazz seemed a natural dancing partner, as it remains today. On Live in Krakow
Klezmer and band up the ante by including elements from Hip-Hop, not only the funky beats but even sampling courtesy of Socalled. This is a potentially dangerous formula--I think we've all heard embarrassing examples of musicians trying to hard to do something the 'kids' will dig--but these guys fortunately use their powers for good. Live in Krakow
is a very hip CD.
The key to the success of this band is that they seem to know exactly what is essential about each of the genres they are blending, what can be integrated and, as far as the Klezmer at the heart of the project, what must not be left behind. The opening "Turntable Pounding" illustrates the approach as well as any track, the crossover elements including a blistering, rock inflected guitar solo from Sheryl Baily and the titular instrument atop funky drumming from Michael Sarin and bass from Nicki Parrott--none of which overshadows the traditional lines on clarinet or the unapologetic Yiddish vocals. "Klezmer a la Bechet," meanwhile, shows the influence of the jazz great on Krakauer's playing even in a pretty straight-ahead Klezmer context. That song and the traditional "Naftule's Nussach" and Krakauer's ballad "Love Song for Lember/Lvov" showcase accordionist Will Holshouser's Klezmer chops to good effect, while the funky "Alt (Dot) Klezmer" shows his ability to vamp on his instrument in a way that recalls Jimmy Smith's B3.
Klezmer came across the Atlantic a century ago, and the folk form combined with the new continent's jazz in true American fashion to create something a little different. This CD captures David Krakauer bringing this music back to its homeland and the excitement both the musicians and audience felt at the event is palpable. If the music of this band is any example, Klezmer should not only be able to weather another century but to continue to grow stronger as well.