David Krakauer Reinvents Oldschool New York Movie Music Downtown
David Krakauer is one of the most exhilarating clarinetists in town. His career spans the worlds of klezmer, classical music and jazz. His shows fronting the band Klezmer Madness in the 90s are legendary. He’s also New York to the core. His forthcoming album The Big Picture celebrates New York-centric film music from across the ages, a mix of well-known and obscure treasures, recorded with a killer band. He also has an intriguing residency coming up at the Museum of Jewish Heritage downtown at 36 Battery Place (just north and west of Battery Park) beginning on Jan 29 and continuing on Wednesdays at 7:30 PM and Sundays at 2 PM through the month of February. Krakauer and a characteristically diverse lineup including Rob Schwimmer on keyboards, Sara Caswell on violin, Sheryl Bailey on guitar, Mark Helias on bass and John Hadfield on drums will be backed by original films by Light of Day and Cutting Room Films, turning the musicians-play-to-the-celluloid paradigm on its head. Tix are very pricy – $35, or $30 for students and seniors – but Krakauer’s preview of the program last month with a trio was characteristically and auspiciously invigorating.
One of the new album’s high points is Krakauer’s austerely waltzing, nocturnal take of the Ralph Burns interlude titled The Family, from the 1974 Lenny Bruce biopic, Lenny. Another is Honeycomb, the psychedelically funky, early 70s Herbie Hancock-style theme from Barry Levinson’s Avalon, written by Randy Newman. How do you do Body and Soul and make it fresh? Turn it into a slinky noir clarinet feature and swing it from a hint of a waltz to a Lynchian sway over the pulse of Jim Black’s cymbals.
Among the other tracks on the album, there’s also a nonchlalant Parisian accordion waltz titled Keep It Gay that goes doublespeed with a droll lickety-split vaudevillian flair. La Vita E Bella begins airily and moves to a warmly bossa-flavored groove lowlit by Adam Rogers’ guitar. Krakauer, Rogers and violinist Jenny Scheinman make a surprisingly upbeat, anthemic, Celtic-tinged dance out of the Love Theme from Sophie’s Choice.
Moving to the Ghetto starts as a grudging solo clarinet theme over a muted accordion backdrop and builds to an aching dance, then turns the haunting melody over to Scheinman and Rogers, who make lingering art-rock out of it. The band creates nonchalant wah funk out of Si Tu Vois Ma Mere, takes a tongue-in-cheek, sotto vocce march through a familiar Prokofiev theme, makes surf rock out of an even more familiar Fiddler on the Roof vamp and ends the album with Wilkommen, which moves from a nocturne into a swinging romp in seconds flat.
Everything here serves more or less as a launching pad for Krakauer’s swirling, crescendoing, sometimes achingly intense, sometimes subtly witty clarinet solos. The only dud here is a turd from the Barbra Streisand catalog that even this all-star cast can’t polish. These album tracks are just the tip of the iceberg, in terms of where Krakauer can take them. You’ve got more than a month to check all this out in a spacious, sonically superb auditorium.