Clarinet virtuoso David Krakauer was an acclaimed Juilliard-trained classical performer before he went on a journey of self-discovery in the 80s, immersing himself in music from the Eastern European shtetls and later interpreting Jewish music through his own unique New York City prism with his envelope-pushing Klezmer Madness! ensemble.
With The Big Picture, Krakauer puts his stamp on twelve tunes associated with Jewish-themed films from Hollywood, including “Tradition” (from Fiddler on the Roof), “Love Theme” (from Sophie’s Choice), “People” (from Funny Girl), and “Moving to the Ghetto” (from The Pianist). Accompanied by a versatile New York crew consisting of drummer Jim Black, guitarist Adam Rogers, violinist Jenny Scheinman, keyboardist Rob Burger, and bassist Greg Cohen (who has had the singular distinction of playing in bands led by John Zorn, Woody Allen, and Ornette Coleman), Krakauer unleashes his Hebraic musicin-Hollywood vision with passionate intensity and an abundance of soul on this career-defining project.
There’s humor in Krakauer’s giddy delivery on “Willkommen” (from Cabaret), which is underscored by an infectious kind of second line groove provided by the indelible tandem of Black and Cohen. On “Body and Soul” (an oft-recorded jazz standard introduced in the 1947 film noir fight film of the same name, but for Krakauer’s purposes it comes from the 1987 Woody Allen comedy Radio Days), the clarinetist conjures up a profound sense of melancholy and longing. He then gets playful with a funky take on Sidney Bechet’s “Si Tu Vois Ma Mere” (from Allen’s 2011 film Midnight in Paris) that has bassist Nicki Parrott, guitarist Sheryl Bailey, and drummer Black putting up the funk. And he turns in a rowdy, revvedup rendition of Jerry Bock’s “Tradition” (from Norman Jewison’s Fiddler on the Roof) that has guitarist Rogers unleashing his Hendrix-inspired wah-wah licks midway through.
On the more introspective side, Krakauer bears his klezmer soul on the powerful “Moving to the Ghetto,” which also features an affecting solo from violinist Scheinman, and he sings through his bass clarinet on a beautiful, straightforward balladic rendition of Jules Styne’s “People” (from William Wyler’s Funny Girl).
Other highlights on this extraordinarily eclectic outing include the delicate, whimsical waltz number “The Family” (from Barry Levinson’s Avalon), which has Burger doubling expertly on piano and vibes, along with a wickedly hilarious interpretation of Prokofiev’s “March” from his opera The Love for Three Oranges (which appeared in Woody’s Allen’s 1975 existential comedy Love and Death) and a faithful rendition of Marvin Hamlisch’s anthemic “Love Theme” (from Alan J. Pakulas’ Sophie’s Choice). There’s also a dark organ groover in Ralph Burns’ “Honeycomb” (from Bob Fosse’s Lenny) featuring a killer guitar solo from Rogers. And just for kicks, Krakauer and company turn in a Spike Jones-ish romp through “Keep It Gay” (from Mel Brooks’ The Producers).
Brilliant concept, first-rate execution, and superb sonics, too. Krakauer’s star shines brighter than ever on this one.