This is just an awesome CD
About 20 years ago Andy Statman recorded an album titled, simply, "Jewish Klezmer Music" with Zev Feldman. It was the first klezmer album that excited me, and it generated enough excitement on its own to drag me deep into the revival scene. After a flurry of albums in the late 1990s, he stopped recording for several years. He hasn't stopped touring, though, appearing frequently with a combo playing something he purposefully does not describe as klezmer (although it includes much klezmer), or with bluegrass all-star ensembles such as "Wayfaring Strangers".
If this album gets much circulation, people will be talking about new Statman music again. Although the backup band, as usual, is more workadik than inspired, Statman's own clarinet and mandolin are as deep, soulful, and incendiary as ever. The opening "Rikud" (dance) is as good as he has ever played klezmer. His soulful "Ki Hinei Ka'Chomer (here I am as raw material [in your hands])/Yom Kippur Eve Melody" and the all-too-short "Hisbonenus" show that the years have only improved his ability to speak with the clarinet. His rendition of the Lubavitch "Avinu Malkeinu" (not the more familiar Ashkenazic cantorial masterpiece) is almost as moving as the more familiar melody.
Those familiar with hassidic nign in general, or with Lubavitch nign in particular, might notice the difference between a nign as it is sung by the human voice, humming, say, around a shabbes table, and the improvisation and changes that Statman introduces in his playing here. Partly this can be ascribed to the difference between human voice and instrumental voice. But this is also a reflection of the fact that for Statman, the nign is a starting point. He has one of the richest musical imaginations performing. From my perspective, for him to focus on the hypnotic repetition of a nign would make no sense. The liner notes suggest that he is also, in part, trying to revitalize Jewish instrumental traditions which have been frozen or stagnant for decades in America. If so, they are stagnant no more.
(The person writing the liner notes might want to look up the meaning of the word "fulsome"—it does not mean "overflowing with" as seems intended in the text. He or she shoudl also consider that the eye can read about 60 characters across before losing place. Using teensy type in a single column layout across the width of a CD panel is one sure way to ensure that the reader will miss much of what is written.)
This is just an awesome CD. The title is "Wisdom Understanding Knowledge" (Khokhma beena dei-a) and the music reflects all of those attributes. Statman's mandolin (as on "Nye Zuritzi"—don't worry) and clarinet are at peak. According to the folks who sent me this review copy, the drought of new Andy Statman work is ending. Three more CDs slated to come out soon: "a Jewish one with his Trio for a company called Brassland; a live Trio CD for Radio Bremen in Germany; and a sort of avant-gardish improv with drummer Bob Meyer on John Zorn's Tzaddik label." In the meantime, this is wonderful music. If you love klezmer, or hassidic music, or bluegrass, this is essential listening. Enjoy.
Reviewed by Ari Davidow, 10/4/04
Andy Statman Bio
Andy Statman’s musical gifts defy categorization.
Inspired by the emotional intensity of Bill Monroe and technique of Jesse McReynolds, during his early teens Andy began a lifelong obsession with the mandolin. Applying a New York sensibility to an Appalachian aesthetic, by age 21 Andy was among the most inventive creators of a fresh approach to American roots music (described by some as “newgrass”). He was soon called upon for sessions with (among others) Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead. His first mandolin teacher, David Grisman, soon became a musical partner for recordings and concerts; David has often said that his proudest musical achievement was having given Andy his first mandolin lesson. Absorbing and transcending traditional approaches to the instrument, Andy is acknowledged as one of the most original and creative voices the mandolin has known, as demonstrated by his own recordings as well as collaborations with Bela Fleck, David Bromberg, Stephane Grappelli, Vassar Clements, and many others.
But Andy’s mandolin wizardry is only part of the story. Statman is just as deservedly known as an innovative interpreter of Jewish instrumental music -- specifically the devotional and celebratory music of Chassidic Judaism -- on the clarinet.
The international resurgence of interest in klezmer - Eastern European Jewish instrumental music - is due in no small measure to Andy Statman. One the last generation of musicians to learn directly from the great European klezmorim of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Andy was uniquely qualified to introduce (and help reinvent) an old world musical form for a new world audience. His early klezmer albums helped inform an entire generation of musicians who continue to play and redefine the music. Among those inspired by Andy was virtuoso classical violinist Itzhak Perlman, who asked Andy to join him for a critically acclaimed series of albums, videos, and concerts entitled "In The Fiddler’s House." Their relationship was rekindled last year when Perlman asked Andy and his group to accompany him in a gala tribute to Steven Spielberg.
Andy’s greatest clarinet mentor was the legendary Dave Tarras. Known as one of the giants of klezmer music in his native Ukraine and later in America, Tarras was also one of the technically finest clarinet virtuosi of his day. He saw Andy as a worthy protégé, asking him to produce his final recording sessions and bequeathing
Andy his treasured clarinets. That legacy came with a proviso, however: that Andy not be bound by tradition, but play the instruments his own way.
In carrying on Dave’s legacy, Andy’s approach to the clarinet is much like his style on the mandolin -- respectful of the traditions of his teachers, but uniquely and unmistakably his own. The spark is provided by the same inspiration from which klezmer flows: the sometimes contemplative, often ecstatic, and always deeply spiritual melodies of Chassidism. These songs, usually wordless vocal melodies, are sung at different times of day, week, month, or year to induce specific states of spiritual devotion and exaltation. Andy and his Trio often take these mystical melodies as starting points for flights of exploration, communication, and imagination. For Andy’s Trio, spontaneity is a key component of the music, and the roadmaps for these musical journeys include obscure two-hundred-year old songs passed on exclusively by oral tradition, modern melodies from one or another Chassidic dynasty, a Statman original written in a Ukrainian taxi or a crowd pleasing stomp remembered from a radio broadcast of the Louisiana Hayride. Each time these melodies are played by the Andy Statman Trio they are radically reinvented and reinterpreted.
Andy Statman is joined by bassist Jim Whitney, a New Hampshire native and Brooklyn transplant who brings to the Trio his New England Conservatory training and a diverse background in jazz, Brazilian, and American folk styles . Jim is a well known and versatile musician equally at home in the re-imagined folkways of the Wayfaring Strangers, the free jazz inflected Walter Thompson ensemble, and many television and motion picture soundtracks. Percussionist Larry Eagle’s experiments in cross-cultural pollination include country-and-western music in Finland, 50’s vintage R-and-B in Malaysia, Zydeco in Barbados, underground jazz in the former Soviet Union, Irish rock-and-roll near Prague, and Chicago blues on an Athenian hilltop. Some of Larry’s other recent projects include Grammy nominated recordings with Odetta and Bruce Springsteen.