Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi All That Jazz

By Michael Henningsen

NOVEMBER 9, 1998:  Andy Statman just can't seem to make up his mind. But armed with virtuosic talent on both the mandolin and clarinet, and an ear for bluegrass, klezmer, jazz and spaces in between, he doesn't really have to. And while he's perhaps best known from his bluegrass work with David Grisman and his early-'80s focus on klezmer --long before the neo-klezmer movement took its baby steps--Statman has turned toward yet another musical context to experiment with: jazz.

"There's a lot of different types of music that I love playing and that I'm going to continue to play," says the 46-year-old musician. "But I feel that this particular material is the most powerful music I can play right now, and this is really the focus of my activity." The music Statman is referring to is klezmer at heart, but in a decidedly jazz format. Along with a quartet that included pianist Kenny Werner, bassist Harvie Swartz and drummer Bob Weiner, Statman recorded Between Heaven and Earth (Shanachie) last year. The record is a stunner, offering nine patient Chasidic melodies, each with a jazz makeover.

Inspired first by Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli, and later by Monk, Coltrane, Mingus, Charlie Parker and much of the early avant-garde movement of the mid-'60s, Statman capitalized on his waning interest in bluegrass by tackling two musical forms as they hadn't been previously.

"The common denominator of all this music," says Dovid Sears, Statman's guide of sorts through the world of Chasidic music, "is that it's very emotionally charged. It's not coming from the frontal lobes so much as (from) the heart." Accordingly, Statman conveys no intention to present traditional Chasidic music in its purest form, instead using the jazz context to remain faithful to its emotional intent. In that sense, he's been able to be at once traditional and experimental, keeping his latest work as fresh as that which came previously.

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