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Tag: melissa fogarty

A Brilliant, Intense, Eclectic Live Album by Isle of Klezbos

Strange as this is to say in New York in 2014, in some circles, just the idea of an all-female klezmer band is still pretty radical. Put allusions to women loving women in the band name and the picture grows more interesting. Add to that the intoxicating mix of a hundred years worth of classic and original klezmer, latin, jazz and film music that this shapeshifting, jam-oriented band plays, and you have one of New York’s most exciting groups in any style. Isle of Klezbos have an exhilarating new album, Live from Brooklyn, recorded mostly in concert at Brooklyn College last year, and an album release show coming up on April 6 at 7:30 PM at Joe’s Pub. Tix are $14 and still available as of today.

Reduced to most basic terms, this is minor key party music at its most deliriously fun and virtuosic. The concert opens with a brief, blistering take of the 1932 Yiddish film theme Uncle Moses’ Wedding Dance, Debra Kreisberg’s whirling clarinet against Pam Fleming’s more resonant trumpet in counterpoint to a surprise ending. By the time the song’s over, it’s obvious that the all-female shtick is just that: the women in this band are world-class players. They get plaintive and haunting on the hundred-year-old diptych that follows, singer Melissa Fogarty’s voice soaring through the first section with a wounded vibrato before the band hits a dancing drive on the second, drummer Eve Sicular’s vaudevillian accents and offbeats livening the groove in tandem with Saskia Lane’s terse bass pulse while Fleming and Kreisberg revel in wickedly tight harmonies.

A Glezele Yash – a drinking song first recorded in the Soviet Union in 1961 and penned by a World War II battlefield hero imprisoned in the gulag ten years previously – is another showcase for Fogarty’s pyrotechnics. Shoko Nagai – one of New Yorok’s most individualistic and intense performers on the avant garde side of jazz – dazzles with her glimmering, darkly neoromantic and blues-tinged piano on Noiresque, a bracing latin- and Middle Eastern-tinted theme by Kreisberg, Sicular shifting seamlessly between waltz time and a swing jazz groove. After that, Weary Sun Tango, a hi-de-ho Boulevard of Broken Dreams style noir piece originally dating from early 1930s Poland, makes a good segue, Nagai switching back to lush accordion lines.

Fleming delivers a long, richly suspenseful Miles Davis-esque solo against Sicular’s ominously boomy pulse on the Middle Eastern-flavored Revery in Hijaz, Nagai’s hard-hitting piano crescendo handing off to stately, lushly intertwined trumpet and clarinet as it winds out. The trumpeter – who famously served as a third of reggae legend Burning Spear’s all-female Burning Brass – also contributes the reggae-klezmer tune Mellow Manna, a showcase for deviously spot-on Rasta riffage and riddims from the whole band, notably Sicular.

Songwise, the drummer contributes her first-ever original composition, East Hapsburg Waltz, a cinematic mini-epic that shifts from a wistful sway to more dramatically orchestrated permutations, through ominous chromatic vamping, more vivid neoromantic piano from Nagai and a big crescendo that Fleming finally takes over the edge before they bring it back down again. The audience agrees that it’s a showstopper.

The triptych that follows that is a medley that both this band and their sister unit, Metropolitan Klezmer (with whom they share members) often play live. Nagai kicks it off, brushing and rustling inside the piano in a fair approximation of George Crumb, before she goes deep into the murk. That leads into a cautious, bracing minor key tune, Fleming out front, segueing into an animatedly blithe version of the venerable Molly Picon hit Abi Gezunt with an absolutely sultry vocal from Fogarty. They close it out with a few animated bars of Klezmerengue, a mashup of popular vaudeville and Dominican themes.

The quietest song on the album is When Gomer Met Molly, a moody, rather sad, wordless ballad written by film composer Earle Hagen for an episode of the old 60s sitcom Gomer Pyle, USMC featuring Picon in one of her occasional rent-a-yenta cameos. The album closes with a live-in-the-studio take of the album’s second number, a nod to klezmer’s somber roots with stark viola and resonant trombone from guests Karen Waltuch and Reut Regev. The album comes with fascinating liner notes that trace the origins of these tunes along with how the band was able to track them down: it’s as rich in history as it is in emotion, energy and tunefulness.

More Good Shows You Might Have Missed, Part 2

When this blog started, its raison d’etre was live music. Over the first two months, there were a grand total of four albums reviewed here: pretty much everything else was free downloads and concerts. But what happens at every music blog was bound to happen here: the PR machine discovered a brand-new place to send their stuff. Suddenly life got a little easier – a cynic would say, why keep going out night after night now that there’ll probably be some reasonably interesting content for the blog in the next day’s email? But just because every other blog does that doesn’t make it right – even considering how many great studio albums are still being released despite all logic and wisdom, at least commercially speaking. Therefore, here’s part two of a long-overdue rundown on some recent, noteworthy shows by artists you might know or might enjoy.

Exactly a week ago, Patti Smith and her band played upstairs at the Barnes and Noble at Union Square. She did a lot more talking than playing – along with a new album, there’s a new reprint of Woolgathering, her first published full-length prose work, a limited-edition chapbook originally issued in the early 80s. From the excerpts Smith read, it’s snarky and off-the-cuff and bitingly amusing in places, all qualities you would expect from her. The bookstore events person who interviewed her obviously didn’t have much familiarity with Smith’s work, but Smith was gracious, even when it came to deflecting questions that she didn’t want to answer. Much of her time onstage was spent telling a long story about searching for a Renaissance Italian painting that she’d fallen in love with after somebody sent her a postcard of it, which she promptly lost. For the better part of twenty years, she’d tried on and off to find out what the painting was and by whom. Then last year she found herself in a small town in Italy, fell asleep in her hotel room, then woke distraught from an apocalyptic nightmare. Trying to shake off the dread, she went down to the street, found a random church that happened to be open, went inside and was intrigued with the architecture and decor. Making her way to the back – you can see this coming a mile away – what did she see hanging on the far wall? The painting. Blissed out, she rushed back to the hotel, woke Lenny Kaye, and then dragged him to the church to show off her serendipitous find. What is the painting and who is the artist? Watch for a new Patti Smith song about it.

By then, there wasn’t much time to play. Smith only sang; she didn’t pick up her guitar, delivering three new songs and sounding as vital as she’s always been. The first was a soul ballad memorializing Amy Winehouse; the second a surprisingly lighthearted pop number that had Kaye playing nimble acoustic bass while bassist Tony Shanahan switched to electric piano (it was his birthday). The final one was a “world premiere,” as Smith called it, the title track to the new album, a punchy, singalong jam-based number inspired by the dog in the surreal, Stalin-era Mikhail Bulgakov parable The Master and the Margarita. That one could have gone on a lot longer than it did, but Smith graciously wound it up quickly.

The next night dub reggae band El Pueblo played Shrine. Drummer Lucas Leto and bassist Eli Sperling kept the grooves deep and slow while their frontman/alto saxophonist Jeremy Danneman lit them up with crystalline, slowly unwinding, hypnotically melodic lines. Electric pianist Marcelo Casagrandi would sometimes take an incisive, jazz or blues-tinged solo, sailing into the upper reaches of the keyboard, but for the most part he kept things simple and tuneful, as did Robert Julian, their excellent guitarist, who stuck to Chinna Smith-style rhythm for the most part. While a couple of their vamps went deep into echoey territory where it became hard to tell who was playing what – which is the point of dub, after all, to get you completely lost in the music – the majority of their songs sounded more like they were simply oldschool roots reggae songs without the vocals. That they held up as well as they did without any words speaks to how catchy and tuneful their songs are.

The next day Metropolitan Klezmer, another smartly jam-oriented band, played a daytime show on the Upper East Side. Drummer/bandleader Eve Sicular reminded the crowd how diverse klezmer music is, and how it keeps evolving. And then they pushed the envelope, not just with blistering dance numbers and plaintive introductory taqsims by accordionist Ismail Butera and clarinetist/tenor saxophonist Deborah Kreisberg, but with a slinky cumbia tune, a Yiddish movie theme, a Polish tango reworked by Russians and a ferocious Romanian medley to close the show. Bassist Dave Hofstra (of the Microscopic Septet) took only one solo but made it a darkly smoldering one, playing with a bow; chanteuse Melissa Fogarty delivered a handful of songs charmingly but with a knowing wink, particularly an irony-tinged version of Abi Gesunt. Sicular is a joy to watch and also a great wit behind the kit, switching effortlessly from suspenseful vaudevillian rumbles to a hypnotic gallop to artful pings and smashes on her hardware.

Then later that night the most cutting-edge show of the entire week took place in a new public plaza tucked away behind Fulton Street in Bed-Stuy, where rap star Yasiin Bey (f.k.a. Mos Def) teamed up with the Brooklyn Philharmonic, conducted by Alan Pierson. The first half of the showwas nothing special, pretty much what you’d expect at a summertime pops concert: a competent version of the finale from Beethoven’s Third Symphony (the “Eroica”), and a handful of lushly orchestrated versions of jazz-pop hits sung with plenty of drama by Leslie Uggams. After a pause, Bey came out front, saluted the crowd from his old hood and then proceeded to lead the ensemble through a mix of eerie, lushly orchestrated RZA-style straight-up hip-hop narratives, a pensive tone poem, and most impressively, a song that succeeded at the type of artsy, soaring soul-jazz that Elvis Costello was shooting for on his North album but couldn’t reach. Bey has always been a great lyricist, but as it turns out he’s also a first-class soul singer, with a plaintive upper midrange that brought out all the angst in that particular number. From the rear of the plaza, it wasn’t possible to get a decent-quality recording, but it’s safe to say that Bey’s lyrics were as enigmatic, incisively critical and spot-on as ever. They wound up the show with a rap tune that worked permutations on the second movement from Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, and then a brief, rhythmic, anthemic one by Bey. Blending classical and hip-hop may be nothing new – Bushwick Bill and the entire Wu-tang Clan were doing it as far back as the early 90s – and this was the third time that Bey and the Brooklyn Phil had collaborated live. Let’s hope it’s not the last.

Happy Halloween!

Here’s the incomparable, charismatic Vera Beren and her Gothic Chamber Blues Ensemble singing The Devil, which poses the question, what if god and the devil were lovers? Talk about the breakup from hell! You can grab a free download here.

Here’s the considerably different but equally incomparable Melissa Fogarty singing the 1911 underground hit Die Fire Korbunes backed by Isle of Klezbos – the song appears about halfway through the program here, a Triangle Shirtwaist Fire centenary special which aired on WBAI’s Beyond the Pale last spring.

Ljova’s upcoming album Lost in Kino collects the brilliant and deviously eclectic viola virtuoso/composer’s film music from recent years. Here’s a Halloweeny clip from Charles Ludlam’s The Coup; here’s a snowy Russian Winterland with footage from a 1909 film by Joseph-Luis Wundmiller.

And finally, for all you stoners, here’s Bongfire by the Fuzzy Cloaks, bassist Scott Yoder’s psychedelic Beatlesque powerpop project.

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