Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Andy Statman in Montreal

I wish I could be in Montreal tomorrow night when the Montreal Jewish Music Festival, presented by KlezKanada, presents a concert with Andy Statman, one of my favourite instrumentalists – on both the mandolin and the clarinet. Andy is a virtuoso in bluegrass and klezmer music and in new Jewish music and jazz.

The show is Thursday, September 1, 7:30 pm, at the Rialto Theatre, 5723 Park Avenue. Yiddish folk singer Abby Rosenfeld opens the concert. Call 514-770-7773 for tickets.

Andy is also giving a bluegrass mandolin masterclass at the Rialto at 4:30 pm.

Here is my review of two Andy Statman albums that appeared in Sing Out! Magazine in 2007.

Awakening from Above
Shefa 3002

East Flatbush Blues
Shefa 3001

Awakening from Above and East Flatbush Blues are two very different albums recorded by Andy Statman.  On the former, he plays clarinet and, on one tune, mandolin while on the latter, he plays mandolin and, on one tune, clarinet. On both, he’s supported by the highly creative rhythm section of Jim Whitney on double bass and Larry Eagle on drums and percussion. The differences are in the origins of their respective repertoires and in the primary instrument played by Statman on each disc, but the two albums are linked by the virtuosity of Statman and his accompanists, and by their obviously deep commitment to the respective musics.

Awakening from Above is a deeply spiritual collection of Jewish music. Unlike most of today’s contemporary Klezmer musicians whose approach to the music is essentially cultural, Statman approaches the melodies as an expression of his Chasidic religiosity. Many of them are based on the Chasidic tradition of wordless songs, or niggunim. Closing your eyes, Statman’s clarinet assumes the role of the rabbi’s voice singing a niggun to his followers gathered around the table after a Sabbath meal. Whitney and Eagle assume the roles of those followers who clap out the rhythms and add their voices to that of the leader.

Although I’m a secular Jew, there is something about Statman’s playing of these religious melodies that stirs me very deeply and seems to take me back to a time when the lives of my ancestors in the Eastern Europe of the 18th and 19th centuries were defined by their religion. There is a profound understanding of this music, and where it comes from, that is communicated through Statman’s virtuoso playing. More than once after listening to this album, I’ve needed to sit for a while in silent contemplation.

The 12 tunes on East Flatbush Waltz include traditional favorites like “Arkansas Traveler” and “Golden Slippers,” Bill Monroe classics like “Rawhide” and “Blue Grass Stomp,” and several of Statman’s own compositions. Bluegrass music is the obvious starting point, and Statman’s playing frequently shows that his masterful bluegrass technique takes a back seat to no one, but his approach in playing the music will certainly not sit well with purists who cannot fathom a band that departs from the standard line-up of mandolin, banjo, guitar, fiddle and bass.  No, Statman and company approach the music as highly creative jazz players.  Bluegrass, in effect, is the inspiration and the starting point for some amazing flights of musical imagination and improvisation. Their 10 minute version of “Old Joe Clark” takes the tune to places it’s never been before with an intensity it’s never had before. While this may not be an album for bluegrass purists, it is an album for someone who purely loves music.  ---Mike Regenstreif

--Mike Regenstreif

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