Often when something is unexpected, it ends up being that much more rewarding. You know: surprises! I remember back in 1994 when Brandford Marsalis put together his jazz/funk/hip-hop group Buckshot LeFonque. The debut album was a giant pile of unexpected. So much so that some folks didn't seem to know what to make of it. Something so loose coming from the Marsalis camp?! Yeah well, the shows they put on were even better. When I saw them quite a bit of the crowd was dressed up in their "Going to see a jazz show" best. The stage was jammed full of percussion, turntables, scratchy guitars, horns and rappers. They opened with a blistering version of Miles Davis' "Spanish Key." Surprise! It just got better from there, with wicked (and nearly impossible to understand) Jamaican rappers, combustible funk, and the craziest turntable/saxophone battle I'd ever seen. (OK, the only such battle, but still…)
Such genre-busting appears to be second nature to some people. Consider the main instigators in Abraham, Inc. Socalled is a hip-hop artist who specializes in fashioning beats from klezmer samples. Trombonist/composer Fred Wesley has played with everybody from Count Basie to Ike and Tina Turner to James Brown. He was the music director and primary writer for Brown from 1968 to 1975. He also played with and arranged for both Parliament-Funkadelic and Booty's Rubber Band. Clarinetist David Krakauer was a part of the early years of the Klezmatics before forming Klezmer Madness! This classically-trained musician might love klezmer and other musics, but he really seems to love running them headlong into each other.
And so Abraham, Inc. was born. If you assume that the combined resumés of the major players here make a high butt-shake quotient likely, then you have your thinking cap in the right place. Hinted at by the 2002 Klezmer Madness! release The Twelve Tribes, Tweet Tweet presents a full-on dance party that takes the best elements from each genre, whipping it all into a frothy mess of funk goodness.
I don't think you'll need to go deep into the disc to see what I'm yakking about as the title track just about says it all. A short vignette of klezmer radio's past morphs straight into the big funk, with Krakauer's clarinet line setting the tone as foil for the "Tweet Tweet" refrain. Wesley adds to the mayhem (we have now officially gone from "funk" to "fonque") with some teasing trombone figures. The line between the old and new worlds is a flexible one as the band shifts effortlessly back into klezmer-land during one section before heading to some solo choruses. This stuff is relentless.
What's great about these compositions is that they're not content to remain in one mode. Songs within songs is what you'll hear. On "It's Not The Same (figure It Out)" the vibe is pure hip-hop and funk, with a horn line that would not be out of place on a Zappa tune. The chorus is just tremendous, floated on top of the mix by Katie Moore.
The surprises never stop, even on tunes that seem like they want to lean toward traditional. "Baleboste: A Beautiful Picture" does indeed start off like it's heading toward pure klezmer, until the hip-hop and funk take over. No, "take over" is not right…because the juxtaposition of these elements never feels forced. Take the songs "Push" and "Fred The Tsadik" as examples. The former modernizes the klezmer tradition by crossing it with an Isaac Hayes vibe. The latter is an over-the-top klezmer/funk jam. It's just too much fun.
And fun is the key word here. Yes, they're all serious musicians, but they can't hide the fun they had putting this material together. So grab yourself a copy of Tweet Tweet, clear the stuff off of your coffee table, and turn it up as loud as you can. Don't be surprised if you find yourself up on that table, shakin' your body part of choice.