Review: Isle of Klezbos fails to match uptempo billing

The Isle of Klezbos gave a curiously mellow program Thursday night at Skidmore College’s Zankel Musi

The Isle of Klezbos gave a curiously mellow program Thursday night at Skidmore College’s Zankel Music Center.

Founded in 1998 by drummer Eve Sicular to explore klezmer music and other Yiddish repertoire incorporated with jazz, Cajun, funk and original tunes, the six-piece band might have been expected to set fire to the airwaves. Klezmer music especially can be incredibly lively, wild and raucous.

Except for a handful of tunes that Isle played over a 90-minute set on Thursday, that’s not what the near-capacity crowd heard.

It’s not that the musicians weren’t well trained. Trumpeter/flugelhornist Pam Fleming, clarinetist/alto saxophonist Debra Kreisberg, accordionist/pianist Shoko Nagal, soprano Melissa Fogarty and guest bassist Dave Hofstra have been to the best music schools around.

But the choices of tunes, the pace of the show and the very laid-back mood hardly inspired the crowd to get up and dance. Perhaps a club setting with its intimacy would have worked better, so the band could have fed off the crowd’s energy.

Even the first song was not a great choice. Instead of hitting the crowd with an electrically charged dance, they began with what seemed like a dirge for the five instrumentalists.

This was followed by a long pause and then an up-tempo tune with the traditional high wailing clarinet, the pounding bass drum, the clipped articulations of the trumpet and the accordion and bass fitting in.

Sicular said the slow opening was the wedding processional, which was followed by the wedding music. The next tune was an original by Rick Faulkner that moved from a Hasidic chant to a Latin kind of tempo, which was catchy and had a nice beat.

Fogarty, who sang only in Yiddish, did a few numbers, many of them from the 1930s and ’40s, including “Let’s Make Up” and the slow lament “Beneath the Trees.” She sold the songs well enough and did some nice skat singing.

Now and then the group caught a bit of a jazz groove. Fleming was especially effective here. There were a few originals. Sicular’s tune, which was dedicated to her Viennese grandmother, was a quick waltz.

Kreisberg’s tune was too understated and slow for the room. On an opening to another Yiddish song, Nagal plucked the strings of the piano in an experimental musical style before the band entered with a swing tempo and Fogarty sang the Yiddish words in a smoky, sensuous way.

But the crowd responded more when Isle returned to the more traditional uptempo klezmer tunes. If the group set up a solid tempo, the audience clapped in time. If Isle wailed away with wild abandon, they whistled and cheered. This didn’t happen often enough, though, which is probably why people kept leaving throughout the evening.

Categories: Entertainment, News

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