When It Comes to Gay Rights and Klezmer, the Musical Is Also Political
by Eileen Reynolds
… Isle of Klezbos is a no-nonsense group. These are musicians with both the creativity to come up with fresh, jazz-inflected arrangements and the chops to play the snot out of them. Listening to the nimble clarinetist and saxophonist Debra Kreisberg breeze through the breakneck melodies of familiar tunes like “Di Goldene Khasene,” for example, one realizes — perhaps for the first time — that the shrill high notes in klezmer needn’t be out of tune. (A certain amount of playful pitch-bending is a stylistic choice, but those top notes shouldn’t hurt our ears.)
At 92YTribeca, Kreisberg and Pam Fleming blended the sounds of clarinet and trumpet together so well that the tricky unison passages in the “Uncle Moses Wedding Dance” sounded as though they were being played by some fabulous hybrid instrument. Fleming, whose tender and controlled trumpet playing could make you forget how obstreperous that instrument can be, also played a very sexy jazz flugelhorn solo in “Abi Gezunt.” Later she unveiled “Mellow Manna,” an original reggae-klezmer composition with a complex bouncing bass line that let Juilliard-trained bassist Saskia Lane show off her impeccable technique…
— The Forward Newspaper: The Arty Semite
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The Isle of Klezbos at Le Petit Versailles
The best little concert of the summer… soulful artistry of the fun and irreverent sextet, The Isle of Klezbos, who play imaginative versions of eclectic European-rooted Jewish folk music, Yiddish swing and tango, and a growing repertoire of moving originals… A multi-generational audience ranging from infants to senior citizens and everyone in-between… was delighted with the entertaining stagewomanship of bandleader-drummer Eve Sicular and treated to numerous beautiful solos and complex harmony work by saxophonist-clarinetist Debra Kreisberg, trumpeter Pam Fleming, and versatile vocalist, Melissa Fogarty.
Isle of Klezbos matches musicianship with strong senses of both swing and humor, creating such diverse neo-traditional sounds as klezmer cumbia, transcendent originals, and songbook standards with Yinglish accents.
— GO Magazine
The all-woman klezmer outfit Isle of Klezbos tests the elasticity of the genre by mixing the traditional Jewish wedding music with merengue, swing jazz, and other diverse musical elements.
— The New Yorker
Voice Choice Pick
The all-female, possibly even all-lesbian (oy vey!) Isle of Klezbos sextet fuses Eastern European-rooted Jewish folk music with jazz, trance, and Latin grooves. Born of the Metropolitan Klezmer movement, the brainchild of drummer Eve Sicular intends to have you boogying in the aisles like a band of bohemian gypsies.
— Village Voice
— Gay City News
Music Best Bets
The award-winning klezmer group is to Eastern European Jewish music what Cherish The Ladies is to Celtic and Irish... Isle of Klezbos is an all-female music group whose talent is as strong as its name is provocative.
— Courier News
Isle of Klezbos puts a fab new spin on Jewish Klezmer music… a wonderfully queer mix of traditional klezmer music, retro swing, ethereal originals and lesbian love.
— Time Out NY
Eclectic all-female klezmer sextet interprets Yiddish music like Madonna does Kabbalah: with a gay flare, inherited devotion and more than a smidgen of irony. The brainchild of drummer Eve Sicular, the Klezbos infuse jazz, trance and Latin grooves into traditional klezmer sounds. With wickedly funny Marga Gomez.
— Village Voice
Since the band’s 1998 debut, Isle of Klezbos has brought its freshly-spiced klezmer, Yiddish swing and tango to festivals from Seattle to Vienna. Its Outmusic Award-winning recordings have topped world music charts at home and abroad. Recent Klezbos collaborations have included a Purim jam with Bitch of Bitch and Animal, Groundhog's Day medley with Marga Gomez, and holiday concert with Stonewall Chorale.
— GO NYC magazine
Harvard University show
Sterling musicianship… they know how to both get at the hear of Klezmer/Yiddish Theatre music and simultaneously wail… very entertaining
Trifecta Shows, NYC
Not only the best-looking nonconformist Eastern European Jewish party music band on the planet but also one of the best.
The Isle With Mellow Style: The all-woman Isle of Klezbos. A traditionalist New Klez sextet spearheaded by Eve Sicular, Metropolitan Klezmer's drummer-leader, Isle is a mellower group than the Metros, a little more laid-back, but with an offbeat sense of humor and a relaxed sense of swing... Isle is a sort of super-group... The playing is sprightly, with a lot of astute ensemble interplay. Simply put, this is a band with no weak links. Trumpeter Pam Fleming is a particular find, with a rich Bobby Hackett-like tone on open horn, and Sicular drives the band crisply from behind her drum kit.
— Jewish Week
The absolute top in klezmer style… In Isle of Klezbos, consisting of six women, there are some members who also play in Metropolitan Klezmer. They don't take themselves overly seriously… A great find. The music is, just as with MK, of a very high standard of quality.
Again with a lot of variety and very swinging. They cover the whole reach of klezmer: horas, doynas, Oriental influences, Balkan and wedding party music, even Latin American and Brazilian influences. Anyone who can come up with a title like klezmerengue and compose the music that matches it is working at a high level… Add to this the beautiful vocals of Deborah Karpel and everything comes together.
— RootsTown, Belgium
An approach that combines scholarly rigor with imaginative leaps… soulful and also virtuosic.
— Sing Out! magazine
Their mixture of updated tradition and up-to-the-minute compositions makes for a seamless collection of sparkling gems… one of the finest young klezmer bands ever to appear on the block.
— The Phat Planet World Music, U.K.
Great ears and great hearts...Their sound turns heads: people who hear the CD playing in our bookstore keep asking, ‘What’s that music?’
Why is this band different from all other bands? It’s not just the name; their repertoire is distinctive too… arrangements are tight and elegant… eclectic musical influences… Pam Fleming on trumpet and flugelhorn works seamlessly with Debra Kreisberg on clarinet and alto sax for a scintillating foreground; Rachelle Garniez supplies a dark and moody accordion, and Deborah Karpel bursts in with upbeat vocals… How much of this group’s particular magic is because they’re women, and how much of it is because they’re these women?… One thing is sure: however it works, it makes very good music
— Der Pakn Treger magazine, National Yiddish Book Center
Drummer Eve Sicular and her klezmer band Isle of Klezbos bring new heat to traditional Yiddish music… Who knew Yiddish could be so sexy?
— The Advocate
If your ears are eager for a musical holiday, I strongly urge you to procure a ticket to the the Isle of Klezbos… an upbeat getaway… a refreshing fluidity… These women are solid and sparkling instrumentalists… everyone contributes to the musical tone of ‘irreverent respect.’
— X-tra West, Vancouver BC
Voice Choices Pick
The powerhouse all-female klezmer sextet combines folk, swing, tango, trance and dance with traditional Yiddish music… Isle of Klezbos (one of the best band names in town!) are six oft-fetching klezmer ladies whose instruments include flugelhorn and accordion and whose recent Brooklyn-recorded album draws on meringues and Brazilian acoustica as well as 1916 Rumanian horras and Ukrainian songs ‘suitable for dancing with a bottle on one's head.’ …These women will make you shake your tushies!
— Village Voice
Klezbian Tendencies: The internationally-known, acclaimed and much-loved all-female klezmer sextet, Isle of Klezbos, approach Yiddish tradition with equal measures of irreverence and respect… Their show is a diverse array of vintage klezmer and original compositions, rollicking dance tunes, retro soundtrack classics, folk songs, Yiddish swing and cabaret tango… We’d make a joke, but they beat us to it.
— TIME OUT New York
The excellent, haunting all-female klezmer band Isle of Klezbos featuring the human crescendo, Pam Fleming on trumpet, a slinky frontwoman and the astonishingly inventive Eve Sicular on drums…
…mischievously virtuosic klezmer group
— Lucid Culture
Klezmer’s foremost all-women ensemble… Drummer Eve Sicular and her musical compatriots totally get the delight side of the equation… The name of the band alone will tell you that there's a sense of humor at work here, as will titles like Houdini Hora and Klezmerengue. There's also great musicianship (standouts include reedwoman Debra Kreisberg, accordionist Rachelle Garniez and vocalist Deborah Karpel — oh heck, Sicular’s a standout too, as are Pam Fleming on horns and Catherine Popper on bass. This is a standout band.), a well-paced blend of traditional and original compositions, and, well, there’s something here to bring that sense of delight to anyone with any interest in klezmer music.
If Eve Sicular keeps this up, she's gonna have to put me on the payroll, I guess, because the music she’s involved with is always so good that my reviews end up reading like press releases instead of criticism.
— Cosmik Debris
Terrific… snazzy… luscious, with just enough of an edge
— The Forward
Isle of Klezbos… like Eve Sicular’s other band, Metropolitan Klezmer… plays excellent, tight, exciting klezmer with several Yiddish theater standards mixed in… quieter than the band’s more boisterous sibling, but no less intricate or satisfying… Also some new klezmer tunes written by members of the band, including Debra Kreisberg’s stately Abrah and Sicular’s East Hapsburg Waltz which features the delightful accordion of Rachelle Garniez.
PHOTO CREDIT top to bottom Angela Jimenez, NYC.com, album artwork by Lisa M. Kelsey and Matthew Fass