Dobrek Bistro Featuring David Krakauer
Review by Dylan McDonnell
Dobrek Bistro Featuring David Krakauer marks the fifth excursion by Polish-Austrian accordionist Kzysztof Dobrek's ever-fluctuating music collective. On previous projects, Dobrek has highlighted musics of Brazil, Mandinka West Africa, western China, and North Africa, among others. Here, however, Dobrek Bistro has focused primarily on styles of the Jewish diaspora, most prominently out of Central and Eastern Europe, with distinct Sephardic and Brazilian musical influences. The core band is Vienna-based but, like previous Bistro offerings, is an international affair, featuring Russian-Austrian Aliosha Biz on violin and viola, Alexander Lackner on double bass, São Paulo-born Luis Ribeiro on percussion. Completing the ensemble is American David Krakauer on E-flat and bass clarinets, a stalwart of the New York klezmer and avant-garde scenes. On every track, Krakauer leaves his sonic stamp: an expert mixture of the European classical canon, Arabic maqam-based musics, Yiddish musics, and jazz.
"Las Incantadas" (excerpt)
As scholar Philip Bohlman discusses throughout his work, there are “borderlands” in Central and Eastern Europe where the cultural and musical distinctions among communities become almost absent, despite religious or geographical ties. This concept mirrors the aesthetic of the Krakauer-led Bistro, wherein distinct song structures expand and contract based on the creativity of the performers, where the familiar becomes fresh due to slight divergence from expectations. As such, the project strings together many phases of expression: some pieces are alternatively plaintive and devotional, as in “Aravá” and “Noca Elegia,” where chant- and durge-like sensibilities mesh with Krakauer's spiraling Bechet-esque blues lines. Some make strong cultural allusions, as in “Las Incantadas [The Enchanted Ones] I-III,” sonic references to the lauded Dionysian sculptures from Thessaloniki, whose repatriation local Sephardic Jews have fought for. Yet other tracks feature material that at first seems fairly simple, then turns out to be head-tilting in multiple ways: “O Mundo Que Eu Vi” (The World I Saw) is a bossa in 15 that manages to retain its relaxed lyricality through Boz's string playing while exerting a higher-tension rhythmic structure.
"Tanz der Schatten" (excerpt)
What becomes clear by the end of the album is the collective's encouragement of listeners to consider their work not only aurally, but physically, in dance or movement. Tunes like “Sedmaček” (a rachenitsa featuring heavy use of darbuka) and “Once Upon A Time in Galitsye” (a Polish-Ukrainian constellation of waltz and cocek rhythms) demand sociability through ring or line dances, often in celebratory contexts. The transformations throughout “Tanz der Schatten” (Dance of the Shadows) offer different entries for listeners of different persuasions, whether through an assumedly “Jewish” melody, uber-passionate tango lilts, or the ultimate son montuno feel. “Ade Efgisa” invites further opportunities to dance, as it enters like a Brazilian chorinho decorated with Boz's klezmer-like string tremolos and moments of reggae/dub trance-time, emphasizing the “borderlands” of the Dobrek mission.
Through a remarkable reworking of disparate aural palates, Dobrek Bistro brings into relief the humanness and emotional possibilities of each style, most apparently those in the Jewish diaspora. Dobrek himself rarely stands out, yet his accordion work is foundational for the ensemble, marking slight harmonic shifts and accompanying the soloists magnificently. Krakauer and Boz certainly evoke the human voice with their wide vibrato and fluid ornamentations. Ultimately, Dobrek Bistro encourages us to listen closer to what we may have missed in other projects like this while contributing their own flair to the mix. - Dylan McDonnell