Spurred By The Election, This Clarinetist Is Newly Energized


Last November, the brilliant clarinetist David Krakauer underwent a sea change. It didn’t involve his music, at least not directly, but he readily acknowledges that something shifted inside him after the U.S. presidential election.

“I’ve never been particularly politically active,” Krakauer said last week in a telephone interview from Australia, where he was performing with his band, Ancestral Groove. “The different themes in my shows have always touched on social justice. I felt that I [had] been politically involved through my music. My music speaks for itself.”

That changed with the election of Donald Trump, Krakauer said.

“What’s been going on since then and what this administration has been trying to pull, it just offends every bone in my body, every instinct I have for what’s fair and just,” he added. “The moment the Muslim ban was announced, we immediately sent an e-mail to Symphony Space and said, ‘Let’s do something.’”

The result was a pair of concerts to benefit the American Civil Liberties Union, the first last April and the second one coming up on Sept. 24.

Even the strenuously apolitical and those who support the administration will find something to like in the September event. Krakauer will be performing with his funk-cum-klezmer ensemble, Abraham Inc. His newest musical partner, Kathleen Tagg, a South African classical/experimental pianist, will be playing with Andre Peterson, a jazz pianist and fellow South African. Marc Ribot will be bringing his downtown/Brazilian aggregation, klezmer powerhouse Frank London will be a special guest and members of the Silk Road Ensemble will also perform.

Although Krakauer’s new streak of political activism is at work, his main concern is still musical. The serendipitous success of Abraham Inc., with its mix of post-James Brown instrumental soul and Krakauer’s eclectic and inventive brand of New Klez, was a delightful surprise, and the band is working on new material for a second album, some of which will probably be showcased at the concert. The event kicks off a busy fall for the band, which will be touring Europe in November.

“We’re excited to be back together,” Krakauer says of the group, which features the trombonist and funk legend Fred Wesley and the rapper Socalled, a frequent Krakauer collaborator. “It’s great to be back in New York with the band, and they’re a perfect group for this event.”

Krakauer has been engaged in some fascinating work with Tagg, although they won’t be performing together at Symphony Space. Not surprisingly, the pair connected first here.

“I had known her for many years,” he said. “She was a doctoral student at Manhattan School of Music when I first heard her play. She’s a fantastic world-class pianist, a great experimentalist. We started playing classical recitals three or four years ago and really enjoyed that. Then we thought let’s do something together, so we created ‘Breath and Hammer,’ a program [utilizing] electronic tracks from the clarinet and piano, which gives us an orchestral, amplified sonority. The repertoire for that program ranges from pieces by the Syrian clarinetist Kinan Azmeh to John Zorn and Roberto Rodriquez, and a piece based on Kathleen’s knowledge of African music. And we just created a large-scale work in Poland using a local klezmer band from Sejny, a tiny town in the north, and guest musicians from Syria and Ukraine.”

(Interestingly enough, Azmeh will be sharing a bill with Ljova, premiering the klez star violist-composer’s clarinet concerto, on Oct. 27 at Bargemusic, anchored just off of Brooklyn Bridge Park.)

Given the whirlwind that is Krakauer’s musical schedule, it probably won’t come as a shock that he and Tagg won’t be performing together in the States until a January gig at Wolf Trap in Virginia, but they are aiming for a New York event in the spring.

As for his new non-musical commitment, Krakauer is emphatic: “I haven’t been asleep politically, but I’m in another headspace right now. It’s the responsibility of the artist with a public platform to do and say things, and to be vocal.”

And instrumental, of course.

The ACLU/NYCLU benefit concert featuring Abraham Inc. will take place on Sunday, Sept. 24 at 7 p.m. at Symphony Space (95th Street and Broadway), symphonyspace.org.