When Metropolitan Klezmer formed in 1994, it was part of the second wave in the klezmer revival that helped to transform and re-energize the Old World genre for a new generation.
Now, as the band marks its 20th anniversary this month and the release of its fifth CD (“Mazal Means Good Luck”) with a gig Dec. 15 at the Museum at Eldridge Street, it’s still krekhts-ing and freylekh-ing along, like a happy family.
Just ask one of the Metros’ long-time members.
“I’ve always felt really supported by the band,” which is led by drummer and founding member Eve Sicular, says Debra Kreisberg, the Metros’ reed player for the past 14 years. “When I first joined I was new to klezmer. I had a background in jazz and classical and was just learning the style. They were really supportive and encouraging.”
Actually Kreisberg joined Sicular’s other group, Isle of Klezbos, at its inception in 1998, but it was Metropolitan Klezmer that she heard first.
“I had never heard klezmer before, and I loved it immediately,” Kreisberg says. “The music and me, it was love at first sight. Based on the recommendation of [then Isle bassist] Kath Popper, Eve was open to hearing me play. The original reed player moved to L.A. and I slid in.”
Kreisberg has been a member of both groups ever since and has played on all their CDs except for the first Metros’ recording. She juggles those responsibilities alongside her other regular gigs as a Latin jazz player, most recently with the newly formed Bronx Conneccíon Latin Jazz Big Band, and in a mainstream jazz project with Isle/Metros vocalist Melissa Fogarty.
It’s that happy family thing, you know.
“I think that everybody genuinely loves this music, and I think everybody loves working together,” Kreisberg says of the Metros. “The band has an energy that is self-propelling. And people are committed. I can speak for myself, I’ve remained committed for all of those reasons. There is a forward-thinking aspect to it, which is really important.”
That progressive feeling comes from the materfamilias, she says.
“Eve is a strong bandleader and always had a clear vision for what she wanted to be doing musically,” the reed player says. “She takes a scholarly approach but she’s open to new material, and has a great ear for finding repertoire.”
Kreisberg ascribes the bands’ longevity in part to Sicular’s “positive approach to the business of music,” adding, “It’s not easy to forge your way and keep a band going for 20 years. Any group that has managed to persevere and keep generating new material and gigs, it’s a great thing.”
A lot of that comes down to attitude and leadership. As the drummer, Sicular is the engine that drives both bands when they’re playing, but when it comes to assembling the band’s set list, she shares the wealth.
“There’s an open attitude where everyone has a chance to contribute,” Kreisberg says. “Eve is open to hearing everybody’s voice in the best way possible; it’s a collective collaborative process.”
The best test of that statement is that so many of the tunes the Metros play (and the Islanders, for that matter) are brought in by the band. As Sicular has noted in previous interviews, every member of the band has contributed original tunes or arrangements.
Although almost everyone in the Metros comes from a jazz background, Kreisberg brings her own personal spin to her contributions.
“I feel a real natural connection between jazz and bebop language merging with klezmer,” she explains. “I enjoy experimenting with weaving in and out of the fraygish mode and bebop lines and blues. I have fun seeing what kind of sounds can come out of that.”
You can expect Metropolitan Klezmer to continue into the foreseeable future. As Sicular said a few anniversaries ago, “We all want to be in the same room; why not do it in front of an audience?”