The last few years have seen young American audiences and critics embracing Eastern European-influenced popular music as never before, from Beirut to Balkan Beat Box and Gogol Bordello. David Krakauer, internationally acclaimed clarinetist, integrates klezmer music into a fusion of funk, jazz and, most recently, hip-hop. Abraham, Inc., Krakauer's collaboration with the young beat architect Socalled and funk legend Fred Wesley, will make its world premiere at the Apollo Theater May 3 and will be followed with an album release.
At the heart of Abraham, Inc. are three visionary artists of different generations and uncannily disparate backgrounds. The arranger and trombonist Fred Wesley is one of the seminal figures of funk, well known for transforming the music of James Brown, Bootsy Collins and Parliament/Funkadelic, among others. David Krakauer, is a classical clarinetist who stumbled onto klezmer and has since adapted it to avant-garde jazz, rock and even Latin styles. The Montreal-based beatmaker Socalled is at the forefront of a new generation of hip-hop renegades infusing the form with Jewish identity.
Abraham Inc. began as a vision for unprecedented cross-cultural exchange between African American and American Jewish musical icons. In practice, it has coalesced into a seamless, endlessly surprising, new sound. Krakauer describes the phenomenon as “a band where Jews make phat beats and African-Americans play music from Yidl' Mitn' Fidl'. Jews play funky lines and African Americans sing Hebraic chant. This is a band whose members interact with the highest level of mutual respect and understanding for each other’s musicality, humanity, intelligence and rich cultural background and all in a natural and easy-going way. This is a group of highly unique individuals who come together and delight in each other’s diversity. That's what Abraham, Inc. is all about.”
The genesis of Abraham, Inc. lies in Krakauer's mid-1990s undertaking, Klezmer Madness!, in which he began crafting his visionary hybrid of Eastern European Jewish music, avant-garde improvisation and American popular styles. That group’s 1995, eponymous debut album remains one of the best-selling titles on John Zorn’s Tzadik label, and they continue to tour the world, performing to sold-out crowds and tremendous critical praise at prestigious performing arts centers, jazz clubs and other venues.
Krakauer’s insatiable and extraordinarily omnivorous musical adventurousness led him to Socalled, a kindred spirit in the search for what Krakauer calls “that magic place where a combination of klezmer, funk, jazz and hip-hop can find a commonality of ecstatic trance.” Socalled’s alliance with Krakauer began in 2001, when Socalled gave Krakauer an early version of The Socalled Seder: A Hip-Hop Haggadah, which is now considered a landmark. Krakauer recorded a Socalled composition on his 2002 Klezmer Madness! album, The Twelve Tribes, and featured Socalled on his 2005 recording Live in Krakow.
In 2005, Label Bleu released the Krakauer/Socalled collaboration Bubbemeises: Lies My Gramma Told Me, which earned the resoundingly positive response of everyone from The New Yorker to Urb and the taste-making Seattle station KEXP, among many others. While on tour in Europe late that year, Krakauer and Socalled were discussing their musical inspirations, and Fred Wesley’s name came up.
Krakauer invited Wesley into their collaboration, and to Krakauer’s and Socalled’s delight, their hero accepted. Wesley was a special guest in a sold-out concert by David Krakauer's Klezmer Madness!, featuring Socalled, in December 2006, and the triumvirate went on to floor audiences and critics at the esteemed rock festival Transmusical de Rennes last year.
At a time when the relations between African Americans and American Jews have been characterized by mistrust and unwillingness to engage in sustained di