"Andy Statman: On Air" - 2005
May 8th 2004 was a night to remember for everyone present at the venerable Radio Bremen concert hall. The Andy Statman Trio was scheduled to perform and in the process gave an impressive demonstration of its art. ON AIR presents four extended excerpts from this concert that give ample evidence why this unique artist from Brooklyn, NY, is one of the most interesting exponents of the contemporary American klezmer and roots music scene. Andy Statman (clarinet, mandolin), Jim Whitney (bass) and Larry Eagle (drums) are always crossing borders and building bridges between the past and present. Amazingly, this is Statman‘s first ever live album, giving long overdue aural evidence of the special intensity he and his band create in a live situation.
„From Ukraine To Nashville“ – this was the title of one of Statman’s past programs and it still provides an apt summation of what this player, composer and improviser from New York is trying to achieve with his art. The term not only indicates the diverse musical genres that Statman fuses, it also alludes to the musical and spiritual journey this artist has made in the course of a 30-year-plus-career. Newgrass meets klezmer – with many points in between.
The teenage Andy Statman discovered the sound of the mandolin in a way that’s not too unusual for an American: a couple of albums by bluegrass veteran Bill Monroe stir his interest and provide the original motivation to pick up the instrument himself. Not too long afterwards Andy Statman studies with „jazzgrass“ pionier David Grisman as one of his master students and emerges as one of the most respected practitioners of the „newgrass“ movement. Country Cooking and Breakfast Special are the names of some of his bands next to his creative partnership with Grisman. Simultanously, Andy Statman also delelopes into an outstanding klezmer clarinet player, delving deep into his Jewish roots. His musical services as a player are getting popular with a huge variety of artists: from Bob Dylan to Dr. John , from Stephane Grappelli to the Grateful Dead. But a personal apprenticeship with klezmer clarinet legend Dave Tarras proves to be especially significant. Tarras bequeathes his antique instruments to his protégé under the condition not to just play traditionally, but to develop a personalized musical language based on the Jewish tradition. Andy Statman plays Tarras‘ instruments to this day and the four compositions/improvisations on this disc stand as wonderful examples of what he has achieved. Two traditional tunes from the Jewish Chassidic tradition are standing next to American folk tunes as two sides of the same coin.
Improvisation/Reb Michel’s Niggun
An extended improvisation leading into a 200-year-old melody from Eastern Europe opens the album, referring to Statman’s firm anchoring in the Chassidic religious philosophy. The Chassidic movement originated in the early 18th century in the Jewish communities of the Carpathian mountains and continues to live on in many Jewish communities in the US. The Chassidic religious practice stresses the importance of personal emotion and intuition which becomes a sort of antidote to rabbinic laws and religious teachings. Andy Statman puts this maxim into sound through improvisation. He starts out meditavely, delves into the ancient melody, builds up intensity and finally returns into contemplation at the end.
East Virginia Blues
The mandolin has a long, if somewhat under-appreciated, history in Jewish musical practice. In the past it was mostly used as accompaniment for soloists, but later also found importance in its own right, especially in mandolin orchestras. These gained importance in Jewish communities as a means of social unity. This old Appalachian folk tune is embellished and worked on with a contemporary New York mentality, the band appearing as a kind of acoustic avantgarde blues outfit. There are echoes of bebop and improvisational parts melt seamlessly with the spirit of the traditional tune.
Again, the improviser Statman starts out on mandolin and a collective group work-out on this American fiddle tune from the 18th century emerges. A sort of joyful counterpart to the plaintive darkness of the Jewish melodies. Still, a traditional aesthetic from Jewish music is at work: the unity of player, instrument and tune.
Yiddisheh Chussid’l Tantz
The second klezmer standard on the album introduces a huge jazz influence and features improvisational outbursts that remind of the 60s avantgarde. John Coltrane and Albert Ayler come to mind. It’s also one more crossing of stylistic borders with the wailing lament of the Jewish tune turning into the explosive intensity of modern jazz improvisation. The music also present an additional expression of spirituality. On this personal spiritual path, the past merely serves as a point of embarkment and the players are plumbin the depths of their own emotionality. The vocal qualities of ancient synagogal chants and the expressive qualities of modern jazz are becoming real close in the process. Introspection and ecstasy are brought together in a matter of minutes.
Generelly speaking, ON AIR presents a musical evaluation of Andy Statman’s Jewish-American identity as an artist and as a person. His tone and phrasing, the ornamentation he uses, are pure individual expression. There is a fair amount of virtuosity to be heard, but it never becomes an end in itself. The music of the Andy Statman Trio brings a joyful message of authenticity, passion and being alive in the moment. Klezmer meets folk meets jazz. An intense musical performance captured live in Bremen/Germany.
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