By Myra Chanin
Isle of Klezbos is a dynamic, all-gal, powerhouse Klezmer sextet who’s more or less played together since 1998. Their music contains enough soul, neshama or anam (that’s how you say “soul” in Gaelic out of respect for their vocalist Melissa Fogarty) for a band with three times their number of musicians. It all happened at Feinstein’s/54 Below on Sept. 25th in their debut.
The sextet was co-founded by drummer/bandleader Eve Sicular and trumpeter Pam Fleming and features the stellar talents of vocalist Melissa Fogarty, reed player Debra Kreisberg, accordionist/pianist Shoko Nagai and double bassist Saskia Lane. Eve Sicular sets the beat by counting in Yiddish and talks about her Bubba, and Kreisberg’s name sounds Jewish so I suspect their cells contain actual Ashkenazi DNA. As for the others, does it matter when they produce a spellbinding array of original and neo-traditional tunes, which are as cutting-edge Klezmer as Klezmer gets. They swing the gamut from rambunctious to ethereal with inspired solos in a multi-lingual setting of rollicking freylachs, Second Avenue Yiddish swing, Retro-soundtrack tangoes, a Soviet Jewish Drinking song, standards and originals.
Every Isle of Klezbosnik is also a composer and each one is an alumnus of Julliard, Eastman and the Manhattan Schools of Music and even Harvard. I absolutely loved Eve Sicular’s offbeat drumming which showed how klezmer music contributed to jazz. Among all these shining lights, for me the one that burnt most brightly was vocalist Melissa Fogarty, whose name couldn’t be more Irish and whose voice couldn’t sound more Polish/Russian/Jewish. Melissa’s performing career began as child soloist at the Metropolitan Opera and received a Bachelor of Music Degree in Applied Voice from the Eastman School of Music. Don’t even ask about her awards. Just be assured that she gave her parents plenty of naches — the pride or joy that a child brings a parent even in County Cork. In 2008 she became the lead singer of the Isle of Klezbos, and ever since has been performing Yiddish ballads and exploring an innate talent for scat singing in swing repertoire. The audience at Feinstein’s/54Below certainly felt she was a formidable presence and showed their appreciation by frequent and loud applause.
But talk is cheap. After you hear the band, you’ll understand exactly what I mean.