Clarinetist David Krakauer is known as both a classical virtuoso and a hard-rocking player of klezmer, the instrumental music of East European Jewry. Several years ago, he connected with DJ Socalled, a young Canadian musician, and started playing klezmer with a hip-hop beat. Now, Krakauer has added legendary funk trombone player Fred Wesley Jr. to the collaboration, and their band, Abraham, Inc., has audiences dancing in the aisles.
Before meeting Wesley, Krakauer already knew that he was the funkiest trombone player on the planet. Wesley spent years on the road with James Brown and Parliament-Funkadelic. He also played jazz with the Count Basie Orchestra.
Krakauer, on the other hand, pursued classical clarinet and klezmer music after graduating from Juilliard in 1980. He says he never imagined incorporating klezmer with hip-hop and funk.
Klezmer Meets Funk
DJ Socalled, the Montreal-based accordion player and beat architect, is the third principal in Abraham, Inc. He grew up at a time when Wesley's trombone riffs from the old James Brown records were widely sampled in hip-hop. Four years ago, when Socalled learned that someone in Krakauer's klezmer band knew a musician who played with Wesley, the three arranged to meet at a rehearsal studio in Carnegie Hall.
"I remember being a little nervous, a little freaked out, like, what on earth is going to happen here?" Socalled says. "We had no idea. But then we go inside. There's Fred Wesley sitting with his trombone out, and immediately he was friendly and talkative and kind and cool."
At the rehearsal, Wesley called for a beat and Socalled delivered.
"It was a funky beat and I recognized [it]," Wesley says.
Krakauer joined in with clarinet and says there was instant chemistry; he knew the band was going to work. Fred Wesley had played with hip-hop musicians before, but he says klezmer made him nervous. It's an Eastern modal music whose scales are substantially different from those used in R&B. Krakauer told him not to worry.
"We said, 'Forget about the modes, Fred. Just take the notes and harmonize them and arrange them the way you've done for James Brown, for P-Funk, whatever,' " Krakauer says. " 'Anything you want to do. Just do what you do.' "
A 10-Piece Mash-Up
In addition to DJ Socalled, there's an African-American rapper named C-Rayz Walz from the Bronx. The ensemble also features white jazz guitarist Cheryl Bailey and black bassist Jerome Harris, who works with Sonny Rollins. Krakauer says the band itself is a mash-up.
"This idea didn't come from a record label, didn't come from a concert promoter," he says. "It came from us, from the artists. And so, therefore, it's a real meeting of people. And we're learning a lot about each other and each other's traditions."
Two years following the band's formation, Abraham, Inc. has released a record called Tweet, Tweet and been well-received at live performances. But DJ Socalled says early audiences didn't quite know what to make of the group.
"Maybe they stare at you, thinking, 'Oh, my god. Are they insane?' And, you know, we are," Socalled says. "But maybe halfway into the tune, they just hear that it's funky as hell and it's making them want to move. So the audiences, no matter where we are, basically, are eventually up on their feet, jumping around, sweating, dancing in circles."