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[Note: This article was posted the jewish-music mailing list by Michael Spudic on 14 Apr 2002. It is html-ized and made available here by permission. ari]

David Krakauer's Klezmer Madness! @ Symphony Space NYC 4/13/02
review by Michael Spudic

In response to Elliott Simon's question regarding the two different klezmer events on Saturday evening, I did go to see David Krakauer's "Klezmer Madness!" at Symphony Space. It was quite an experience, enhanced by the presence of German Goldenshteyn, Bessarabian clarinetist. Not that German performed on this gig (!), in fact he was invited by David Krakauer to come to the concert. Now recently with wheels, I picked German up in Brooklyn and after battling two hours of traffic jams on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and parking problems on the Upper West Side, we made it just in time for the packed concert at Symphony Space on Broadway and 95th St. Now you're wondering, how was the concert?

There was no dancing in the aisles, as is customary at many a klezmer event, and a lot of this might have more to do with the cerebral/creative nature of the music, presented in concert fashion, but it also stands to reason that there is the burden of events in the Middle East hanging over the proceedings i.e. not a good time to be dancing.

That said, the musicians showed not only extraordinary sensitivity towards David Krakauer's concept of klezmer music but much concern and skill in carrying out his musical ideas. With Krakauer doubling on both clarinet and bass clarinet (effectively used for at least one doina), allow me a word about the other musicians on this "megagig."

First there was Mark Stewart on guitar. Stewart has worked with such luminaries as Paul Simon, Anthony Braxton, Bob Dylan and Paul McCartney and showed it with one heck of an opening solo, electrifying a Bulgar in a way that weighed some very heavy metal on this upper west side shtetl!

Will Holshouser on accordion pushed the limits of that instrument throughout and it is always a pleasure to hear the timbres from his instrument that go well beyond the stereotyped usages. Last night, I especially enjoyed his often autonomous contributions to Krakauer's improvisations once the rhythms were set, such as in the second-half rendition of a wedding set that included "Miserlou," replete with some very dissonant chordal combinations. Holshouser has performed at the Folksbiene Yiddish Theater and one can sense his special pleasure with Jewish style just as he has already assimilated a host of other musical styles as a much desired free-reed freelancer in the New York area.

The klezmer constellation of five was given firm rhythm and bass sustenance by Kevin Norton on percussion and Nicki Parrott on both electric and string bass. Norton pushed the limits with constant and steady propulsion when called for and engaged in some very fine solo work in the less rhythm-driven items, affirming a pedigree that includes work with the Klezmatics, Kapelye, Andy Statman, to Fred Ho and the Mark Dresser Quartet.

Nicki Parrott, a New York import from Australia, came to town in 1994 to study jazz improvisation with Rufus Reid. She has performed with jazz greats at jazz festivals virtually all around the world. After a rocky start with some trouble with the amplification, she came into her own, and more than amply advocated David Krakauer's style of klezmer, while showing much personality throughout.

Let me continue now by quoting a slight sample from Krakauer's program notes for this concert, a kind of manifesto entitled: "Reflections on Being a Klezmer Musician:"

"...when I write a more extended compostion, I try to keep the feeling of a klezmer melody or ornament - but at the same time abstract that into a single gesture. Or, when I write a new tune, it has to be danceable, yet full of quirky and weird aspects - in short, Klezmer Madness!"

Krakauer's version of klezmer with all the quirky and weird did manifest itself throughout the program, such as in the set entitled "TV Klezmer" which I heard him perform almost ten years ago with Michael Alpert and David Licht. It's a pastiche of tunes from popular television shows, "klezmerized" to such a degree that you did have to laugh at the perhaps not so meshugeneh thought--as David casually ad-libed it to the audience last night--that a generation of Americans have grown up with a common cultural heritage of television tunes from "The Flintstones" to "The Twilight Zone." That music is instantly identifiable by the collective strata of Americans, by each and every kid in us who sat in front of a television set in the 1960s and 70s. Roughly speaking, the people sitting in the audience for this concert were for the most part in their 40s and 50s and did seem to catch the sly humor of Americans in Ashcroft's America all united together not only by patriotism, but by strains of 60s television themes emanating out of the omnipresent boob tube.

The TV klezmer set was perhaps the quirkiest item last night. The other highlights included a work that Krakauer wrote reflecting upon his trip to the city of his grandparent's origins, Lemberg as it was known in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, L'viv as it is known in today's Ukraine. This cut was recorded on Krakauer's recently released CD "A New Hot One" for the French jazz label Label Bleu and was awarded a prestigious French honor, the "Diapason d'Or" prize. There was also a title that Krakauer composed during the high holy days after 9-11 and a member of the audience came on stage to intone the shofar at the emotional high-point. The dirge-like harmonies sounded absolutely spooky, especially fortified by Holshouser's spare and carefully spaced chords on the accordion.

Throughout the evening Krakauer alternated virtuosic pyrotechnics with some very heartfelt, very rich and beautiful clarinet playing, always strident, always full of suprises, be they melodic or rhythmic, each phrase always something more than just a gloss on klezmer. For my taste, and I do mean this as a compliment, Krakauer was a "metaklezmer" last night and in front of a New York audience that knows its basic, traditional klezmer, he pulled it off. Not only did he yield transformational impulses from this hybrid band of neophyte klezmer-oriented musicians, but there was that wonderful alchemy of high-powered creativity on center stage while throughout the Symphony Space audience people could be seen tapping their feet and swaying in their seats.

David Krakauer's with his vision of klezmer as "Klezmer Madness!" injected an intoxicating multi-cultural sensibility to all the bulgars, terkishers, freylekhs and even doinas that he nurtured on stage: in other words Elliot, you missed one tour de force of a show in New York City last night!

A final footnote concerning David Krakauer's most recent release, one containing much of the music heard at Symphony Space last night. The CD, entitled "The Twelve Tribes" will not appear in the U.S. until this fall (harmonia mundi usa). As Elliott Simon already indicated in a previous review of a "Klezmer Madness!" show back in January at the Tonic, that CD is already available in France (Label Bleu) and can be ordered via

Michael Spudic
Forest Hills, NY

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