Abraham Inc.’s David Krakauer (left), Socalled and Fred Wesley found a common denominator in funk.
ASHKENAZ FESTIVAL at Harbourfront Centre (235 Queens Quay West) August 28 to September 1, featuring ABRAHAM INC. on the main stage, tonight (Thursday, August 28), 8 pm. $25. And ANDY STATMAN at the Enwave Theatre, Monday (September 1), 6 pm. $25. 416-973-4000.
The highly anticipated Toronto debut of the fabulous Abraham Inc. launches this weekend's Ashkenaz showcase of new Jewish performing arts and culture. In this offshoot of David Krakauer's Klezmer Madness! ensemble, the well-connected clarinetist is joined by James Brown's trombonist of choice, Fred Wesley, and niggun-chanting Montreal heeb-hop producer Socalled.
"I felt that this could be a logical extension of what Socalled and I had been doing together on the Bubbemeises: Lies My Gramma Told Me (Label Bleu) CD, where old klezmer recordings were used as source material for making new beats that serve as the foundation for new music," says Krakauer. "The fact that funk is typically based around one or two chords, which is also true of klezmer, and how they both have this trance-like quality just made it seem like a natural fit."
The real test of Abraham Inc. was performing their funky amalgam live at Harlem's famed Apollo Theatre back in May. According to Krakauer, there was no need to duck tomatoes or other vegetable projectiles.
"Fortunately, we didn't have to deal with the kind of crowd that would come for the talent shows in the old days of the Apollo," chuckles Krakauer. "We went over very well.
"Some people might've come out of curiosity, wondering how Jewish music could be funky. But if you listen to those old klezmer 78s from the 20s, that's some wild party music right there - some of the funkiest stuff you'll ever hear."
Andy Statman helped lead the klezmer revival.
The other main attraction at this weekend's Ashkenaz Festival is Brooklyn-based mandolinist Andy Statman, who might seem to have more in common with forward-looking bluegrass greats David Grisman and Ricky Skaggs than with Krakauer. Sure, Statman's picking is steeped in old-timey tradition, since he was schooled by Jersey-born newgrass guru Grisman in the mid-60s, when "Dawg" was a touring member of Red Allen's Kentuckians. Yet Statman's also a kickass clarinetist who's spent his career exploring the hidden connections between ancient Jewish musical forms and American roots and jazz.
In fact, when it comes to the klezmer avant-garde, Krakauer may be seen as a leader, but he's actually following a trail blazed by Statman a decade earlier.
"I think anyone familiar with the history will acknowledge that I'm one of the spearheads of the whole klezmer revival movement," says Statman. "My mentor was the legen-dary clarinetist Dave Taras, who took me under his wing because he thought I could carry on the tradition. This music was an important part of my heritage, so I was determined to do whatever I could to keep it alive even if no one else was playing it. When I started to perform, there was no klezmer scene. Back then, it wasn't even called klezmer music - that didn't happen until years later."
Over the years, Statman has honed his technique on mandolin and clarinet to the point where he's revered as a virtuoso of both. And while he still plays the odd bluegrass gig and appears at Jewish music events like Ashkenaz (he'll be joined by drummer Larry Eagle and Austin's Mark Rubin of Bad Livers fame on upright bass), he's not comfortable being associated with any scene.
"I still go where I'm invited, and I can play some bluegrass, but I find working in any single form too restrictive for what I need to say artistically. I don't consider my music to be bluegrass any more than it is klezmer. It's really my own conception informed by my personal experience and everything I've learned."