One band is celebrating its second album and 16 years of existence.
The other is brand new and hoping to get into the studio soon.
One leader has been at the head of two of New York’s longest running klezmer bands since their inceptions.
The other, although one of the most respected players on his instrument in jazz, pop and Jewish music, is stepping into the limelight for the first time.
But Eve Sicular and Isle of Klezbos have a lot more in common than not with Brian Glassman and the Klezmer/Jazz Alliance. On the simplest level, both bands are playing in town within a three-day period — Isle on April 6 and the Alliance on April 8.
And Sicular, the drummer-leader of Isle and Metropolitan Klezmer, and Glassman, one of the top bassists in New York, have a mutual admiration society based on frequent shared gigs and musical respect.
“I knew Brian before I’d formed either band,” Sicular says over the noise of a crowded Chelsea café. “We played a lot of school gigs in New Jersey that [sax player and rabbi] Greg Wall organized. Doing those gigs with Brian, I saw an ideal klezmer bass style early on. He’s brilliant at switching back and forth between klezmer and straight time. I love the guy and I love his playing.”
The feeling goes both ways, with Glassman saying pretty much the same thing about Sicular’s drumming.
“I’m an honorary Klezbian,” he added with a chuckle. “I’ve sat in with Isle and loved every minute of it.”
The other thing that both bands — and leaders — have in common is a fascination with the way that Jewish music informs and infiltrates jazz and the American songbook.
“I’ve always been fascinated by that crossover,” Glassman said in a telephone interview from his New Jersey home last week. “People don’t realize how much [Jewish influence] seeped into American music. You have those melancholy modal sounds, which you can find in a lot of bebop, Cab Calloway singing ‘Ut Azay’ and scatting with sounds like Yiddish rap, all that Second Avenue [Yiddish musical theater] stuff.”
The personnel of both groups testifies to the wildly variegated musical fusions going on when they are playing.
Isle’s bandstand will feature trumpeter Pam Fleming, who has toured with Black Rock Coalition’s “Nina Simone Tribute” and the reggae stars of Burning Spear; classically trained singer Melissa Fogarty, a favorite of composer David del Tredici among others; reed player Debra Kreisberg, who is a mainstay of both Metropolitan Klezmer and Los Valientes; pianist-accordionist Shoko Nagai, whose free-jazz chops have graced the work of such artists as John Zorn and Rashied Ali; and bassist Saskia Lane, who tours with Dan Zanes and Friends and her cocktail-pop trio The Lascivious Biddies (and now their acclaimed kid-friendly Itty Biddies project).
The members of the Klezmer/Jazz Alliance include Greg Wall of Hasidic New Wave and Ayn Sof Arkestra fame; pianist Dan Rosengard, whose many “day” jobs have included work with the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue, as well as Billy Joel and Debbie Gibson; and Aaron Alexander, one of the mainstays on drums for Zorn’s constantly morphing gang of musicians. And for the April 8 performance, the group will include Yiddish songstress Eleanor Reissa.
Add in the two leaders and you have about as wide a range of musical sounds as can be imagined.
Sicular grins when she talks about the close feeling among her bandmates. “We all want to be in the same room,” she says. “Why not do it in front of an audience? That’s why we ended up with the new CD being a live concert. It’s a representation of the band at this moment, a nice cumulative project.”
That accumulation includes some lively and melodic jazz and tango-laced pieces written for the band by Fleming, Kreisberg and Sicular herself.
As for the shape-shifting that goes on in their multiple bands, Sicular and Glassman are both happy to be mixing and matching.
“I think that after playing so many different types of music, you don’t really think about it; the barriers start to break down,” Glassman observed. “You’re like an actor, you’re interpreting the music in different masks, different clothes.”
“I particularly like the adjective ‘genre-bending,’” Sicular says.
The differences between jazz and klezmer are real, Glassman added, but not as great as they might seem at first glance.
“The most striking difference is rhythmic,” he explained. “Klezmer isn’t all that far away from ragtime and that early 1920s kind of jaunt, the rhythm you hear in Scott Joplin for instance. Harmonically, it’s a bit simpler than, say, bebop; [it’s]? a simpler folk harmony. The harmonic minor scales, they’re all used in jazz anyway. But it’s all good music, and that’s what matters.”
There is one obvious reason that all these musicians play in so many different bands and dip their musical toes into so many stylistic pools. In the increasingly straitened circumstances facing the arts today, it’s the only way to survive.
Not that monetary considerations ever come first.
“It’s for the love of it,” Glassman says emphatically. “You’re never expecting big money. It’s about the music and the love of doing it.”
Sicular concurs: “In the time we’ve been doing this, so many clubs have come and gone, distributors, music stores. … I feel lucky we’re still at it.”
Isle of Klezbos celebrates the release of its new CD “Live in Brooklyn” with a special concert at Joe’s Pub (425 Lafayette St.), Sunday, April 6, at 7:30 p.m. For information, call (212) 967-7555 or visit joespub.com. The CD will be released April 8 on Rhythm Media Records; for more information go to www.Klezbos.com.
Brian Glassman’s Klezmer/Jazz Alliance plays Tuesday, April 8, 7:30 p.m., as part of the NY Klezmer Series at Stephen Wise Free Synagogue (30 W. 68th St.). For information go to http://aaronalexander.com/wp.