Queens native Andy Statman comes from a Jewish musical family, but he first made his mark in bluegrass, working with the diverse likes of David Bromberg, Vassar Clements, Bob Dylan, Bela Fleck, Jerry Garcia, David Grisman, Tony Trischka, and Itzhak Perlman, while exploring a range of musics from jazz, European classical, Balkan, Middle Eastern, Central Asian, Latin and African-American folk roots. After mastering the mandolin, he was drawn back to the music he’d heard at home growing up, and sought out Yiddish clarinet legend Dave Tarras, who would eventually will his clarinets to Statman, his star apprentice. Statman was thus a key figure in the Klezmer revival of the 1970s and thereafter.
All these influences are manifest in this pair of titles, with superb, low-key accompaniment by bassist Jim Whitney and drummer-percussionist Larry Eagle. East Flatbush Blues presents a blend of traditional tunes on which Statman’s mandolin dominates, from a breakneck interpretation of Bill Monroe’s “Rawhide” to a loping “Bluegrass Stomp,” plus several original Statman compositions in the style, and his unique arrangements of Appalachian folk material, including “Arkansas Traveler,” “Golden Slippers” and a ten-minute mandolin essay titled “Old Joe Clark?” The question mark signifies the ensemble’s ability to stretch a tune to the outer sonic limits.
Statman opts to keep his American roots music work separate from that inspired by his Jewish faith. The profoundly contemplative Awakening From Above convenes Whitney and Eagle again, for 13 explorations of traditional Jewish material, with Statman leading primarily on B-flat and E-flat clarinets, plus his studio doubling of clarinet and mandolin on his own composition, “Forshpiel.” The soaring virtuosity of Awakening From Above goes far beyond the merely technically perfect. Indeed, this is the meditative artistry of a musician whose deep and abiding religious faith may very well inspire the attentive listener.