New York

David Krakauer and his Acoustic Klezmer Quartet: “Musical Instruments” in Queens at Dusk – A Concert Review

Forest Hills is a beautiful, throwback community deep -but not too deep- into Queens, New York. The planned neighborhood was begun over a century ago. In contrast to much of New York City, Forest Hills is verdant and jealously protected. Even the streets are private. The cozy venue for the concert May 1st, hosted by Musica Reginae, was The Community House at the Church-in-the-Gardens. Parking passes were issued for concert goers to avoid strictly enforced towing. I was praised for my wisdom for taking the subway to avoid trouble. My secret is that I don’t own a car.

Do you know Klezmer music? I have heard it described as polka with “more garlic”. Lest you think I am casting aspersions, polka was the dominant popular music all over Europe in the 19th Century much like rock and roll dominated the 20th. Polka reached far and wide, and had a perfect “portable” ensemble. I have not studied the origins of Klezmer other than listening. The inter-song banter from the band leader, clarinet player, and emcee, David Krakauer, points to Eastern Europe as the source with a dominant presence in Romania and Ukraine. It is further distinguished from the popular music of it’s day by favoring minor keys and tweaked scales. In addition to polka’s band -accordion, tuba, trombone and clarinet with bass drum and cymbal- there is often a violin involved.

David Krakauer and his Acoustic Klezmer Quartet during the second set.

This quick caricature of Klezmer does not really set the stage for the concert that was played. The music reflected Krakauer’s take on the ensemble and genre. The band leader wailed on clarinet as the melody instrument. Michael Sarin was the rhythmic foundation on a paired-down drum kit featuring heavy use of floor tom. He also had a suspended cymbal just past the high hat which he attacked from a crouch. Jerome Harris contributed on a large acoustic bass guitar. He was the only member to sing and only on one tune Tribe Number 13; a florid, wordless melody without words which blossomed, unexpectedly and effortlessly, into multi-phonics – singing more than one note at a time which causes whistling and adds sparkle to the sound. In an evening of surprises, this was one of the most unexpected. Will Holshouser rounded out the band by playing accordion, acting as the orchestra. He also composed a bulgar (The Dusky Bulgar), a traditional song form and dance, which was on the set list.

Although the genre was stretched and played with, there was a lack of pretention and considerable ease. Think of the musical permutations affected by Piazzola through tango, Richard Galliano with musette or Bill Monroe with traditional mountain string bands. Krakauer described himself mid-concert as mostly “assimilated” in his youth and uninterested in Klezmer until his early thirties. The New York music scene was having a Klezmer and yiddish revival in the 1980’s in general, perhaps that is what piqued his interest. He revealed through his anecdotes throughout the evening that he was able to study the genre through early recordings and by eventually traveling to meet the old masters who were still around.

But what of the playing?! The playing was amazing from every performer. The sonic palate was varied and never dull. There were square grooves and funky grooves. Traditional Klezmer barn stormers and the self-described “Jackson Pollack”-like genre deconstruction of Tribe Number Thirteen. The bass fills were immaculate; the accordion hits sparse and perfect. There was so much space in the sound from every player which I admire and something I attempt in my own playing. Waiting for Julian, a drum solo by Michael Sarin, spoke, dazzled, and shimmered until… an interruption from a cell phone message. He smiled, and repeated the tones on drums (can you do that?) and incorporated the theme into the rest of the solo. And Krakauer…man! can he play clarinet. He is a true master of the instrument.

Throughout the concert, the room was full of bobbing, bopping heads. Women were half dancing in their seats the entire time and one lady in the back couldn’t restrain from dancing during the final number. I would love to see this band given the freedom to play for a room full of dancers.

David Krakauer and his Acoustic Klezmer Quartet- one of the best bands I have seen- and I have been on a live music tear lately. Master musicians, all. Although they have been around for nearly two decades, they haven’t played together for a year and a half! It’s a pity that I can’t convince you to catch a show over the next two weeks of their run. May 1st was a one-off performance. And amazingly, this isn’t Krakauer’s only project. Catch them when you can.

Scent Search: Rose & Cuir

Since March, I have been on a scent search. I have no idea what sparked it. My old cologne from L’Occitane seemed to have turned. It was time for a change, anyway. I have been searching high and low. I’ve sampled scents from Creed, CK, 4711, Parfums de Marly, Acqua di Parma and more. It’s been quite the rollercoaster! The search has slid open a festooned door into an alternative New York: Shopping New York. Fragrances are sold in surprising places like drug stores and “spiritual” shops, and fragrance boutiques bloom in the most fashionable parts of Manhattan.

On Greenwich Avenue, there is a hidden gem of a dive bar that I sometimes visit for a beer or two. Until a week ago, I had no idea that next door, through a heavy door -a magical door- is a Frederic Malle Boutique. How can I describe the shop? Unlike a normal boutique, it’s dark and metallic, and there’s seating on a cushioned, curved bench which conceals you from window shoppers. There was an open curtain to “the back” which revealed a beautiful yard “for special events”. The shop feels like a waiting room in a fancy garage to bide time as your MacLaren is serviced.

Tess, the experienced saleswoman, was finishing up some business, a Midtown apartment delivery, which allowed me to soak in the place. I smelled some candles- Russian Nights stood out. The scents of  the candles were complex and interesting. Her task finished, I asked Tess to give me a sense of the house of Malle.  She insisted that we should smell no more than three perfumes at this visit, chosen from the island in the middle of the small space crowded with identical bottles. I’m thinking, “Lead the way, Tess!” Since the beginning of my search, giving myself over to the experience has been much of the fun.

Before sampling, Tess wrote the name of each scent in tidy cursive on the card-sized sampling paper. The first was a crowd pleaser: Musc Ravageur. A date night tour-de-force. Dark and spicy. Vetiver Extraordinaire was next to be sprayed on the heavy ivory colored card. This scent was more my style. Gentle, long lasting and grassy; here was a handsome scent. The next sample made me feel like perfume could be something more than perfume: Rose & Cuir. Tess explains that the House of Malle allows the perfume designer, the “nose”, freedom to create a scent of their choosing. A grand opportunity is given the creative noses to have the means to make… art? 

Salvador Dali has a painting that is simultaneously a portrait of his wife and a portrait of Lincoln. As you linger in front of the painting, there is Gala seen from behind, naked and peering into a dreamscape ocean through a cruciform window. Looking at the canvas from across the room, a portrait of Lincoln is revealed. Her head becomes his eye; the window his face. Lincoln is out-of-focus, but recognizable. Rose & Cuir contains no rose in the fragrance, and I could smell no leather (cuir). Yet, I was made to believe the perfume contained rose. Up close Rose & Cuir is sour. From away it smells like a rose. Dali would be impressed. When I first smelled it, it reminded me of what? It was there… a memory from any hot Arkansas summertime afternoon of my childhood… a surprise- it smelled like old garden hose. As a kid, play time was uninterrupted by drinking water from the outside spigot. Sipping water from the hose, my nose was close to the source: water and sour brass and rubber. Rose & Cuir. I have smelled nothing like it in a perfume.

Tess very kindly gave me some samples of the three scents we had tried. When I sprayed Rose and Cuir on my skin it was sour. Nothing but sour. Frederic Malle makes long-lasting, luxurious scents. Over the day, the sour note never waned. The scent changed as the day wore on, but the brassiness dominated. I don’t like it at all, but I love it. It made me aware of the world in a whole new way. After smelling this artwork, this masterpiece, my perspective has changed. I have read books that have made me think differently. Music has changed my life through performance. And now, a perfume I don’t like to wear has opened me up to the possibilities of another sensual world to be discovered on both sides of heavy, gilt doors.

Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle
94 Greenwich Ave
New York, NY 10011