Abraham Inc. blows through musical genres

BY MARISA WAY | MARCH 04, 2010 7:30 AM

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Just as the religious figure Abraham is incorporated into Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, the band Abraham Inc. uses a blend of funk, hip-hop, and klezmer-style music.

While Abraham Inc. (named after the biblical figure for this very reason) has only been together for three years, everyone involved had previously established their talent as musicians. David Krakauer was known for his classical and klezmer performances on the clarinet. Fred Wesley had a long history of playing and writing music, most notably working with James Brown (the “King of Funk”) in the 1970s. Socalled’s (Josh Dolgin) work with hip-hop and klezmer music has also given him a name in the music community.

The band will perform in the IMU Main Lounge at 7:30 p.m. today. The concert is sponsored by Hancher Auditorium. Admission for the event is $10 for UI students, $24.50 for children, $31.50 for senior citizens, and $35 for others.

The group has such a unique sound that it can present some problems. Dolgin said it can sometimes be difficult to tell when the three hit the musical mark.

“If you’re in a rock band, and you play a great rock song, you just sort of know you did it,” he said.

“But we don’t have that feeling, because we don’t know what the hell we’re doing. It’s a new type of music, and we’re just feeling it out, basically having fun freaking each other out and stirring each other up. “

Abraham Inc. is fronted by Krakauer on clarinet, Wesley on trombone, with rapper Socalled taking care of the beats and vocals. Backup musicians, who regularly perform with the group, include Igmar Thomas on trumpet, Brandon Wright on tenor saxophone, Jerome Harris on bass guitar, Sheryl Bailey on lead guitar, Allen Watsky on rhythm guitar, Michael Sarin on drums, and rapper C-Rays Walz.

Rob Cline, Hancher’s director of marketing and communications, said he first heard about Abraham Inc. through the venue’s work with Krakauer. After speaking with Krakauer, he booked the group for Iowa City.

“We learned about this new project that not only involved our friend David but also James Brown’s old trombone player,” Cline said. “And we thought, ‘Heck — well, we want to be a part of that.’ ”

Although most people are familiar with funk and hip-hop, klezmer is not as well-known. Dolgin said the word “klezmer” is derived from the Hebrew words for “vessel” and “song.” He said the style of music originated in Eastern European Jewish culture and was traditionally played at celebrations.

“In Jewish life, everything was sort of punctuated by music,” Dolgin said. “So, it developed into this very specific form of dance music — instrumental music that people partied to in Eastern Europe.”

Abraham Inc. draws from the backgrounds of Dolgin, Krakauer, and Wesley and their unique approaches to music. The spectrum of differences among them is about as wide as the distance from Wesley’s hometown of Mobile, Ala., to Dolgin’s childhood home of Chelsea, Québec, Canada.

Though the sounds, backgrounds, and instruments are different for these men, Wesley said, the collaboration is much smoother than one might think.

“It’s basically listening to each other,” he said. “We’ve all come to really understand each other very well … We all kind of relax ourselves to go with the other one’s feelings. That way we can appreciate each other’s art.”

Dolgin and Krakauer collaborated previously on an album released in the United States in 2006.

Dolgin said the two looked at how they could take this collaboration to the next level musically.

Dolgin — who greatly respects Wesley’s work — immediately suggested the trombone player to Krakauer. Wesley was immediately excited about the project.

“[Krakauer] just called me up one day and asked me if I would be interested in putting some funk with his klezmer music,” Wesley said. “That’s how it got started.”

From there, the group began touring. It has played at such venues as Carnegie Hall and played concerts as far away as France and Austria. Abraham Inc.’s début album came out in Europe a few months ago, and it was released in the United States on Feb. 23. The CD, titled Tweet Tweet, is named after one of the tracks in the album.

Iowa City is one of a handful of stops for Abraham Inc. in the United States. Dolgin said the New York-based group will, hopefully, make a music video for one of the songs, because some tracks have gotten radio play in Europe. One of the songs was a top download on iTunes in Europe, he noted.

In addition to playing in the IMU today, the Abraham Inc. members held a discussion about their project at Hillel House on Wednesday. An opportunity to discuss their music will also be available after the performance tonight. Cline said this is a good way to bring background information and a more personal context to the musicians and their performances.

“The message there for [Abraham Inc.] is that we can find some common musical ground, and then we also [can] find some common ground out in the wider world,” Cline said.

Despite all their differences, Dolgin and Wesley have one thing in common — their talent has extended across a variety of media. Dolgin has invested time in magic, writing, and photography, and Wesley has written a memoir in addition to teaching at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro. While these interests demonstrate the men’s breadth of capabilities, they also speak to their ability to become bored easily.

“I’m always looking for something new to do,” Wesley said. “That’s why I wrote the book … just boredom for the same old daily routine.”

Perhaps the cure for Wesley’s boredom is Abraham Inc. Everyone involved in the project describes it as a new musical experience, which Dolgin hopes will bring out positive emotions in the audience.

“We’ll probably just play a bunch of cool festivals and rock out,” he said. “We’ll show the world that different people can get along and their cultures can combine and bring out the best in each other.”

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