Songs of Our Fathers - A Journey of (Re-)Discovery
Andy Statman & David Grisman's Songs of Our Fathers - Traditional Jewish Melodies was released in 1995 on Grisman's Acoustic Disc label.
Both Statman and Grisman started out in bluegrass, the former moving on to kick-start the klezmer "revival" in the late 70s, the latter becoming a major legend in 'grass and folk circles. Following Andy Statman's career since the early 70s has been a fascinating journey in itself. Country Cooking was one of the finest progressive bluegrass bands of its day and included such other legends as Pete Wernick and Tony Trischka. Statman's mandolin and soprano sax were already quite outstanding then. (Gosh, is it really 30-odd years already since those heady days?!) His original compositions were equally noteworthy. After Country Cooking,
Andy Statman moved on to co-found the equally legendary Breakfast Special.
By the second half of the decade I'd temporarily lost track of him for
a while, only to stumble across this amazing album in 1979 by Zev Feldman and Andy Statman called Jewish Klezmer Music - could this be the same Andy
Statman, and that wonderful music I'd heard on old 78s earlier in the decade?
The answer, of course, turned out affirmative on both counts. A number
of albums by Statman kept coming along regularly through the 80s and 90s,
establishing him firmly as one of the leading exponents of contemporary
klezmer. David Grisman, meanwhile, had grown into one of the greatest legends
in the progressive bluegrass and folk worlds, showing no inclination to
explore his Jewish roots musically.
Songs of Our Fathers, however, is David Grisman exploring, even affirming, his Jewish musical roots, with Andy Statman's able guidance. It is an exploration of klezmer in a decidedly contemporary voice, and shades of 'grass abound, especially in exchanges between the two maestros on mandolins. A journey of exploration, Songs of Our Fathers stops here and there, makes excursions now and then, but somehow never seems actually to arrive anywhere in particular. Perhaps that's as it should be with a journey of exploration - in a way, a predetermined destination would somehow negate the very concept of exploration, one could argue. And yet, pleasant and even interesting and stimulating though the music is, somehow Songs of Our Fathers leaves one with a distinct sense of unfulfilledness.
Sadly, I feel that Songs of Our Fathers is not one of Andy Statman's strongest recordings. On Adon Olam, his chalumeau is endowed with an almost Acker Bilk-like, excessive vibrato that, in the context, actually at least borders on the unpleasant - most uncharacteristic playing for the normally brilliant Statman. Kazatski is easily the most enjoyable track on this album, lively, even rousing, with a lovely tuba "oom-pah" bass giving the arrangement a wonderful lift. Another lively track is Chassidic Medley, though this might have benefited from some judicious reduction to its length. On Shomer Yisrael, there is a touch of somewhat vibrato-laden chalumeau again, right at the beginning, but this time not necessarily disturbing, from which Statman jumps into a brilliant and masterful, restrained alto. Dovid Melech Yisrael is a highly enjoyable track, and easily the most inventive. The contrast between the subdued tuba and Andy Statman's lively, passionate clarinet here is absolutely beautiful.
Overall, Andy Statman & David Grisman's Songs of Our Fathers is something of a mixed bag. For the most part, the music is actually very enjoyable, and generally (with one notable exception mentioned above) it would be hard to fault either player's performance, in fact, virtuosity abounds. The supporting artists can't be faulted either and include the illustrious Edgar Meyer. But, a completely satisfying album it somehow isn't for this reviewer, for whom it simply doesn't quite compare to Andy Statman's other klezmer albums.
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