Alex Kontorovich: Deep Minor (2007)
Twenty-six year-old, Russia-born/New York-based clarinetist/saxophonist Alex Kontorovich is a phenomenon. He's a martial arts black belt, math professor at Brown University, "Bird-head" by his own definition, but one that is also well versed with John Coltrane's legacy. He's also a key member of Klezmer and Ska bands including Frank London's Klezmer Brass All-Stars, The Klez Dispensers, Aaron Alexander's Midrash Mish Mosh, KlezSka and King Django's Roots and Culture band. A resourceful and disciplined musician, he integrates his Jewish musical heritage with the vocabulary of bebop in a creative and persuasive manner on his debut as a leader, Deep Minor, while avoiding obvious cliché, but with tons of passion and integrity.
For this recording Kontorovichwho wrote all the compositionshas assembled a tight and aggressive rhythm section. Drummer Aaron Alexander is also a member of the Klezmer Brass All-Stars and the Hasidic New Wave. Free jazz bassist Reuben Radding and the brilliant banjoist/guitarist Brandon Seabrock from the alt-Klezmer Naftule's Dream round out the line-up.
The quartet blasts off on the opening "Transit Strike Blues. Kontorovich cleverly transforms the Klezmer misheberach mode into an infectious and frantic minor blues form, alternating searing solos with Seabrock, who demonstrates his percussive banjo playing. "Kandels Burning" is tongue-in-cheek tribute to Klezmer bandleader and clarinetist Harry Kandel from the beginning of the 20th century, and here Kontorovich plays in and out the Romanian hora dance form, referencing Kandel as much as he does Trane, pushed by the fractured and frantic rhythms that Alexander produces. "New Orleans Funeral March" is a bluesy tribute to the birthplace of jazz that slowly boils around the articulate bass playing of Radding until its ecstatic free jazz climax. On "Waltz for Piazzolla," Kontorovich and his band mates present a much more reserved and sensual approach, especially Kontorovich on clarinet.
"Sirba" is a fast and exhausting dance form, and the quartet pushes it joyfully, with Kontorovich and Seabrock alternating solos on clarinet and electric guitar, while Radding and Alexander supply inspired stop-time rhythms. "Hora Nossim" is a testimony to the way Kontorovich plays with an East European traditional dance form, coloring it as a bluegrass song, courtesy of Seabrock's banjo, and adding Monk-esque improvisation while still managing to keep things organic and natural. "AfroJewBan Suite" marries a bebop scale with a Cuban/Klezmer rhythm in the same celebratory manner that the Hassidic New Wave explored "the Afro-Semitic Diaspora" on From the Belly of Abraham (Knitting Factory, 2001). Kontorovich concludes with a propulsive and inspired tribute to Charlie Parker's "Chi Chi, transformed here into an exhilarating Klezmer "Tzitit.
Track Listing: Transit Strike Blues; Kandels Burning; New Orleans Funeral March; Waltz for Piazzolla; Sirba; Nossim Hora; AfroJewban Suite; Tzitzit.
Personnel: Alex Kontorovich: clarinet, alto saxophone; Brandon Seabrook: guitar, banjo, tapes; Reuben Radding: bass; Aaron Alexander: drums.