Sender: BG-L -
Subject: Orthodox Jewgrass
Mandolinist and clarinetist Andy Statman, for my money one of the most extraordinary musicians ever to align himself with bluegrass, has finally released a new bluegrass CD. For decades, Statman's been a practicing Orthodox Jew in New York City, and has become one of the modern giants of Klezmer music, having studied with the late Klezmer clarinetist and composer, Dave Tarras, a musical giant who had a Bill Monroe-esque stature in the Klezmer world. Statman's recorded numerous CDs of Klezmer music and also his own brand of music that combines Klezmer and Jazz. But his bluegrass profile has been up and down. From his early days in the 1970s with Country Cooking and related groups through his long-time association with David Grisman and his occasional, and wonderful, solo albums on Rounder (Flatbush Waltz was reissued last year through Rounder's Archive custom-pressing arm, though it's more jazzy/world than bluegrass; try Andy's Ramble for 'grass), he's consistently proven to be one of the most creative and unique composers and players in the bluegrass world, even if he doesn't display this side of him enough. (He is on the new Ricky Skaggs instrumental CD, though, for anyone needing to see more real bluegrass cred.) East Flatbush Blues (on the Shefa label, street date Oct 10) ends the recent bluegrass drought, and it doesn't disappoint. It is flat-out brilliant. But that’s me. I expect, however, that more than a few bluegrass fans would have a problem with certain aspects of the disc. First, the instrumentation. The band for this all-instrumental album is Andy on mandolin in the context of his regular trio, which is Jim Whitney on bass and Larry Eagle on drums. Yep, that’s the band. And they sound great, whether doing standards like Rawhide or Bluegrass Stomp, or Statman originals (7 of the 12 cuts). And second is the exploratory nature of Andy’s improvising. It breaks plenty of bluegrass rules, although anyone who enjoys jazz players like Eric Dolphy or John Coltrane shouldn’t have any problems with it. The most out-there tune, in terms of improvising in a free-ish jazz mode, is, ironically, Old Joe Clark. Perhaps recognizing the nature of his approach, he adds a question mark to the tune’s title. Anyway, that should give enough sense of what’s there to let you know if it might be your cup of tea. In my case, it’s more a super-sized coffee. Also, on the same label, is a simultaneous release, “Awakening from Above,” which is Andy fronting the same trio, but on clarinet, in his Klezmer/Jazz mode. I love it, but that one’s for another discussion and another group.