NPR

Abraham, Inc.: Klezmer With A Funky Hip-Hop Beat

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."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Clarinetist David Krakauer is a classical virtuoso who is also into klezmer, the music of East-European Jews. Several years ago, he connected with a Canadian musician and started klezmer with a hip-hop beat. Now, Krakauer has added funk trombone player to the collaboration. Jon Kalish has the story of their band: Abraham, Inc.

JON KALISH: Abraham, Inc., is kind of surprising.

(Soundbite of music)

ABRAHAM, INC. (Musicians): (Singing in foreign language).

KALISH: Even for the musicians.

Mr. DAVID KRAKAUER (Musician): When I graduated from Julliard in 1980, if someone had told me you'll be playing with Fred Wesley, and it will be because you're playing Jewish music, I would have been, like, okay. .TEXT: KALISH: David Krakauer already knew that Fred Wesley, Jr., was the funkiest trombone player on the planet. Wesley spent years on the road with James Brown and George Clinton. He also played jazz with the Count Basie Orchestra.

Mr. FRED WESLEY, JR. (Musician): If you had told me that I would one day end up with a great classical clarinetist playing Jewish music, I would have told you you were nuts, too.

(Soundbite of music)

KALISH: The third principal in Abraham, Inc. is the Montreal-based accordion player and beat architect known as DJ Socalled. He grew up at a time when samples of Wesley's trombone riffs from the old James Brown records were widely used in hip-hop. It turned out that someone in Krakauer's klezmer band knew somebody who played with Wesley. Socalled says the three arranged to meet four years ago at a rehearsal studio in Carnegie Hall.

Mr. DJ SOCALLED (Musician): I guess I remember being a little nervous, a little freaked out, like, what on earth is going to happen here? Were about to meet Fred Wesley. Are we prepared? Is he going to laugh? Is he going to be cool? 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.

Mr. KRAKAUER: And then Fred just said give me a beat. So Socalled hit a beat.

Mr. WESLEY JR.: It was a funky beat and I recognized the beat. And David Krakauer started playing some clarinet on top of it.

Mr. DJ SOCALLED: Wesley started just jamming on top of it.

Mr. KRAKAUER: And that first moment it was total chemistry. And we said okay, this is going to work.

(Soundbite of music)

KALISH: Fred Wesley had played with hip-hop musicians before.

Mr. WESLEY JR.: Hip-hop is sort of a watered-down funk, you know. Horns are taken out of it, and most of the rhythm is taken out. It's just one single boom, bam and rap on top of it. You know, so I wasn't really thrilled by it.

KALISH: But klezmer made Fred Wesley nervous. It's an Eastern modal music whose scales are substantially different from those used in R&B. David Krakauer told him not to worry.

Mr. KRAKAUER: We said forget about the modes, Fred. Just take those notes and harmonize them and arrange them the way you've done for James Brown, for P-Funk, whatever, anything you want to do. Just do what you do.

(Soundbite of music)

KALISH: Abraham, Inc. is a 10-piece multiracial band. 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. David Krakauer says the band itself is a mash-up.

Mr. KRAKAUER: This idea didn't come from a record label, didn't come from a concert promoter, 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 about each other's traditions.

KALISH: Abraham, Inc. played its debut concert two years ago at Harlem's Apollo Theater. DJ Socalled says at first, audiences don't quite know what to make of the group.

Mr. DJ SOCALLED: Maybe they stare at you, thinking, oh, my God. Are they insane? And, you know, we are. 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.

Mr. WESLEY JR.: I've never seen a circle dance before outside of a Jewish wedding. I've seen many Jewish weddings.

KALISH: Once again, Fred Wesley, Jr.

Mr. WESLEY JR.: People always dance to this music.

KALISH: Abraham, Inc. will tour Europe this summer. The band's new album is called "Tweet Tweet."

For NPR News, I'm Jon Kalish in New York.

(Soundbite of music)

BLOCK: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Most Popular