The Klezmatics/David Krakauer’s Ancestral Groove

Factory Theatre, August 31


Krak res
David Krakauer. Photo supplied.

One moment it was the popping, swooping song of some virtuosic bird, and then two such birds in perfect dialogue. It could ache with 10,000 years of human suffering, and explode with as many millennia of laughter and joy. David Krakauer is to clarinettists what Jonas Kaufmann is to operatic tenors, Keith Jarrett to improvising pianists, Bela Fleck to banjo players and Zakir Hussain to tabla players. He is not just an utterly distinctive benchmark, he extends his instrument’s potential in ways that mess with one’s mind, while underpinning this with that fathomless emotional content.

Although Krakauer and his band Ancestral Groove were nominally the “support” on this double bill, they were – trust me – the main event. And what an event. Here were two bands making their Australian debuts that represent the pinnacle of the preservation of Jewish musical culture in New York. Crucially both of them understand that the biggest favour you can do to a tradition is not merely to preserve it, but to extend it. Traditions survive by growth and renewal – even marriage!

The lush fields upon which Krakauer’s astounding clarinet playing occurred were provided by one of the finest bands ever to visit Sydney. Think of the funkiest band you’ve ever heard, then put it on steroids; think of the most incendiary klezmer, inventive jazz or moving sonic poetry and this was Sheryl Bailey (guitar), Jerome Harris (electric bass), Michael Sarin (drums) and Jeremy Flower (sampler).

The Klezmatics’ place in history, meanwhile, is assured. Since 1986 they have played a key part in reviving and popularising the music of Eastern European Jews. Three decades on original members Lorin Sklamberg (vocals, accordion, guitar, piano), Frank London (trumpet, keyboards, vocals) and Paul Morrissett (bass, tsimbl, vocals) remain, joined by veterans Matt Darriau (clarinet, saxophone, vocals) and Lisa Gutkin (violin, vocals), plus one newer recruit in the brilliant drummer Richie Barshay. They were equally adept at leaping dances or swooning laments, bringing a broad, almost orchestral palette of colours alongside some thrilling solos and Sklamberg’s versatile singing.