The “On The Edge” category in BU’s “Reviews” section was created to incorporate music that extends beyond the parameters of straight bluegrass, but still holds interest for some readers. At times, my tired fingers have accidentally typed “Over The Edge,” and perhaps that would be a fitting description for this amazing, essential, and daring recording.
Andy Statman has made a career of skillfully walking the tightrope of avid devotion to the soul of certain music traditions, such as bluegrass, klezmer, avant-garde jazz, or Jewish music. Whether channeling Bill Monroe or Albert Ayler, apprenticing under David Grisman or Dave Tarras, Statman has achieved an unmistakably identifiable voice on his instruments (mandolin and clarinet) unlike most other. His recorded canon has toggled back and forth from bluegrass to Jewish music, sometimes straddling both with his original compositions. Old Brooklyn may be his most ambitious attempt to integrate his varied influences. He brings in some of his regular musical collaborators on brass and rhythm, but also blends them with musical cohorts who may be more familiar—Ricky Skaggs, Byron Berline, Béla Fleck, Bruce Molsky, and Jon Sholle.
The results are amazing. Just a few seconds into the opening title track, his dissonant clarinet leaps in over Fleck’s rolling banjo. But the scene abruptly shifts to a much more familiar stylistic context, and hearing Fleck and Statman exchange ideas is enough reason to check out this recording. And surprises continue to abound. Statman and Skaggs have teamed up before on the latter’s albums. But a skin-tingling rendition of “The Lord Will Provide,” featuring only Skaggs’ voice and Statman’s mournful clarinet, is a tremendous evocation of a meeting of two cultures in the common ground of Old Testament devotion and ancient tones.
Unquestionably, much of this album will leave bluegrass traditionalists uneasy. But even if the one-of-a-kind stew of blues, Jewish melodies, and jazz are not your comfort zone, there is still so much that will appeal to this readership. There are lovely Statman/Molsky duets such as “Uncle Mo” and “Waltz For Mom,” the sweet pedal steel waltz of “A Brighter Day,” and joyous takes on “Y’All Come,” “Long Journey Home,” and “Sally Ann.” Even if this music were considered to have only one toe clinging to the edge, the distinctive mix of unique innovation and devotion to roots is deserving of recognition. Prepare to have your ears opened, but only so that music beyond most of our imaginations can enter. (Shefa Records, J.A.F. Box 7131, New York, NY 10116, www.andystatman.org.)HK