David Krakauer's Ancestral Groove / Checkpoint

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David Krakauer's Ancestral Groove / Checkpoint (2016)

CDs, MP3s available via David Krakauer's website.

David Krakauer has cut his own path through musical genres. An early member of the Klezmatics, he left two decades ago to record an early klezmer-avant-garde jazz CD for the nascent Tzadik label. He also became renowned as a classical clarinetist, making the definitive recording of Oswaldo Golijov's "Isaac the Blind." A decade ago, he joined forces with hiphop artist SoCalled and began exploring the intersection of klezmer, jazz, hip hop, and funk. Just a few years ago, they joined forces with funk trombonist Fred Wesley in "Abraham Inc" and blew minds around the world. Then, two years ago, he released a new recording of Olivier Messiaen's "Quartet for the end of time" as a tribute to clarinetist Henri Akoka, who was part of the prison camp quartet that premiered the piece with Messiaen. That piece was bookended by contributions by Krakauer and SoCalled.

At the same time, Krakauer formed a smaller band to continue his personal fusion of modern classical, jazz, klezmer, funk, and hip hop. Newly released in the US, Checkpoint is that rare work that feels true to each genre it has assimilated. It felt especially appropriate to begin to get to know the piece as I was revisiting the work of a different, but equally uncategorizable artist, the late Prince.

The album opens with a showcase, "Kickin' it for you" and then skips through a delicious range of rhythms, music, and virtuosity (Krakauer's clarinet, of course, but also the band with whom he is recording). I confess to being especially excited by fellow Tzadik recording artist Marc Ribot's contributions on "Elijah walks in," with the wailing guitar, balancing with Krakauer's funk clarinet and the hip hop beats. Likewise, "Tribe Number 13" nodding to Abraham Inc features John Medeski on keyboards pushing the band in interesting directions (but then compare with the album closing, live version, with the core band). In contrast, "Border town pinball machine" opens with clarinet riffs again familiar from Abraham Inc fused with a Tex Mex-ish accordion, courtesy Rob Curto and bandmember Sheryl Bailey's soaring guitar, then draws pure klezmer wails from Krakauer, helping to fuse it all together.

A piece such as "Checkpoint Lounge" owes as much to '80s jazz-rock as to klezmer, despite Krakauer's Balkan doina and the accompanying percussion. The piece also highlights why this recording has made itself a permanent part of my daily listening. This is music that stands on its own: original, passionate, articulate. In a different vein, "Moldavina voyage" is closer to traditional klezmer, with echoes of khazones in the background vocal sampling, with the "Synagogue wail" that follows, delving even more deeply into Eastern European prayer tradition. Then the recording closes with two live pieces featuring Krakauer and the band rocking out to funk and tradition—as tight playing live as in the studio.

In short, this is one way that Jewish music should sound in 2016: a melding of Jewish, American, and other musical styles reflecting the passions of David Krakauer, reflecting the world in which we all live. This is a vital recording, standing out in a year when there is an accumulation of a wealth of new Jewish music. You can get your copy, and other recordings, from David Krakauer's website. Few things are this good. Treat yourself.

Reviewed by Ari Davidow, 5 June 2016.

Personnel this recording:
David Krakauer: clarinet
Sheryl Bailey: electric guitar
Jerome Harris: electric bass
Michael Sarin: drums
Jeremy Flower (aka "Keepalive"): sampler

Rob Curto: accordion
John Medeski: organ
Marc Ribot: electric guitar

Song Titles

  1. Kickin' it for you 5:33
  2. Krakowsky Boulevard 5:00
  3. Tribe number thirteen 5:37
  4. Checkpoint lounge 5:42
  5. Elijah walks in 5:37
  6. Moldavian voyage 4:42
  7. Synagogue wail 3:30
  8. Border town pinball machine 4:10
  9. Tandal 5:23
  10. Tribe number thirteen 5:12

All songs composed by David Krakauer

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