David Krakauer Brings His Exhilarating, Clarinet-Fueled Klezmer Funk to Williamsburg
David Krakauer has been one of the prime movers in wild, edgy klezmer music since his days in the Klezmatics, then leading the self-explanatory Klezmer Madness, which was more or less his fun project when he didn’t have s symphony orchestra gig. One of the world’s most in-demand clarinetists across all styles of music, he’s got a new album, Checkpoint – streaming at Spotify – with his Ancestral Groove band, and an album release twinbill with shows on April 7 at 9:30 PM and the following night, April 8 at 7 PM at National Sawdust. Cover is $25.
The premise of the album is less radical than it might seem, considering that so much of the Eastern European Jewish music that’s filtered down into the klezmer idion is dance music to begin with. As usual, Krakauer brings a no-nonsense band with him: Sheryl Bailey on guitar, Jerome Harris on bass and Michael Sarin on drums. The album kicks off with Kickin’ It For You, a shuffling trip-hop groove over a spare Rob Curto accordion loop, lingering guitar and the liquid, effortlessly spiraling reedwork that remains Krakauer’s stock in trade. A spare, bluesy guitar lead introduces a bobbing, balletesque one from the bandleader.
Krakowsky Boulevard is basically a simple funk vamp with lots of dancing, leaping klezmer clarinet – Krakauer adds even more jaunty, bounding flourishes than he did on the first track, slinky chromatic riffage signaling an entrance from funky guitar and drums. A long, spacy guitar solo eventually brings Krakauer jumping back in, unexpectedly.
Tribe Number Thirteen makes straight-up funk out of a simple chromatic riff, with an enigmatically slinky organ solo by guest John Medeski. Checkpoint Lounge is a deliciously uneasy, slowly crescendoing, even slinkier noir theme: it reminds of Beninghove’s Hangmen at their jazziest.
Marc Ribot guests on Elijah Walks In with a sideswiping guitar solo that starts out as pretty basic funk and then goes scraping the sidewalls, shedding sparks as Krakauer weaves and dips around it. Krakauer plays elegant, distantly mournful lines on Moldavian Voyage, with a trippy, dubby intro, sampled snippets of cantorial singing lurking in the background before it picks up as a lively, shuffling dance.
Krakauer follows Synagogue Wail, a bracing, apprehensively trilling solo piece, with Border Town Pinball Machine, Curto matching the clarinet’s joyous minor-key bounce over a techy, hip-hop influenced beat, Bailey’s shreddy solo taking the silliness over the top.And then they suddenly get serious, revving to redline for the album’s most sizzling peak. A concert recording, Tandal gives Krakauer a launching pad for some feral, shrieking upper-register riffage; the album winds up with an expansive, live second take of Tribe Number Thirteen.