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Review of Bashert Klezmer Band -- An amazing find!

Hevre: When was the last time you were totally blown away by a performance?
You know the kind I mean, when what you see totally shocks and surprises
you, and defies all the expectations and preconceptions you had going into
the show?

As a music critic, I see a lot of concerts, Jewish and not, and this happens
at most once a year and if I'm lucky, twice.

So I'm writing today to tell you about my most recent surprise. This past
Sunday night, I took the mishpokhe to see the Bashert Klezmer Band. It's a
new group, a quartet, with several familiar faces. With Sruli Dresdner and
Lisa Mayer of "Oy Vey!" and Klezchester fame, and Brian Bender of the
Wholesale Klezmer Band and too many other side projects to count, we knew,
or I should say, we thought we knew, what we could expect: a solidly
performed show of mostly traditional klezmer infused with a heymishe

Boy, was I wrong!

This isn't to say that Bashert didn't solidly perform "a show of mostly
traditional klezmer infused with a heymishe Yidishkayt," but merely it was
so much more!

First of all, besides being a virtuosic multi-instrumentalist, holding down
the accordion, clarinet and pok seats, Sruli was a deeply warm and personal
musician, particularly on clarinet. Drawing on his childhood background in
Hasidism, he brought a vibrant spirituality to his playing, which at times
reminded me of Andy Statman, but even warmer than Statman.

Lisa, too, transcended "solid" and was a dynamic soloist and accompanist,
one who executed hard-driving melodies and pulsing sekunde rhythms with
equal aplomb. And Brian Bender gets better every time I see him; he is an
inventive musician on trombone, piano and melodica, continually exploring
new roles for the instruments in the ensemble. And as an ensemble, the trio
played with freewheeling spirit and a seamless telepathy.

And then there was the ringer.

The fourth member of Bashert was the only one with whom I was totally
unfamiliar, and, I believe, with whom most readers of this list are

I don't know very much about vocalist Felicia Shpall, other than that for
the last 15 years or so she has been a major force in the Double-Edge
Theater, an avant-garde Jewish theater troupe that apparently frequently
performed at the Cracow Yiddish cultural festival. 

I don't think she has extensive experience performing Yiddish vocal music,
not that you could tell, because Felicia apparently was born to sing
"Mekhuteneste Mayne" and the like.

Think you could live the rest of your life without ever hearing that song,
or "Di Seposhkelakh," again? Think again. Not only will you hear these songs
in a whole new light when you hear Felicia sing them; you'll want to hear
her sing them again and again.

I don't know where to start in talking about Felicia. It's almost
embarrassing to be so effusive, but, as I said, I haven't felt like this
since I saw Bruce Springsteen on his comeback tour last August at the Fleet
Center in Boston. Because that's the level of focus, intensity and
theatricality that Felicia brought to the show. Arena-sized, in a small,
coffeehouse-style venue she and Bashert transformed into an Old World tavern
for an evening (the place was Club Helsinki in Great Barrington, Mass., and
all klezmorim within a day's drive should call them up or send promo kits
immediately while the klezmer vibes are still hot there).

Felicia's theatrical background was immediately apparent. But it wasn't the
sort of "excessive theatricality" that unfortunately too often spells
"schmaltz." I don't know if there's a fine line or not between "schmaltz"
and what Felicia pulled off. Maybe it had something to do with her virtuosic
vocals. She has a deep voice, which swung from cantorial style, with the
requisite krekhtsn, tshoks and kneytshn all in the right places, to Second
Avenue and a bit of post-Second Avenue Broadway, to cabaret, with the
occasional, slight hint of jazz and chansons. All of it incredibly artfully
done, parceled out with just the right amount of sugar and spice, and just
the right amount of edge. 

I guess maybe it's that edge that makes all the difference. But this wasn't
camp, either. Felicia never camped it up, and there was no post-modern,
ironic winking of the eye. IT was a fully-committed performance of classic
and modern Yiddish theater and art songs (others included "Kotsk,"
"Chernobyl," "Pastikhl," "Aye Lyu, Lyu Mayn Tayere," and "Ani Ma Amin"),
delivered in an intimate setting, with just the right amount of
cabaret-style walking into the audience and singing directly to audience
members. Her Yiddish rolled off her tongue as if she was a native speaker
(thank her grandmother for speaking Yiddish to her). And Felicia's earthy
sensuality somehow made it timeless: both classic and contemporary, without
breaking the spell. I guess I can get around the sexist commentary by
quoting one of the women in my party, who said afterwards, "You just wanted
to take a bite out of her." Indeed.

For whatever reason, there are so few who can really pull off this
repertoire, the Yiddish vocal repertoire, without sending a discerning
listener screaming for the exits. I can count them  on one hand, and they
include Fraidy Katz of The Klezical Tradition and of course, the great
Adrienne Cooper. And their styles are totally different.

But I kid you not, Felicia Shpall (who?) is right up there with the best of
them. As I said, I know little about her, and I don't even know if she's
really serious about making a career out of this (she apparently has other,
non-musical work in mind, too, but I'll leave it to her to do the explaining
if she feels like it). If she didn't, it would be a huge loss to Yiddish

IN addition to Bashert, Shpall apparently performs with a NYC-based group
called the Yiddishkeit Klezmer Ensemble.

I can't tell if I've done an adequate job describing just how amazing a
performer she is. I'll also be writing a "professional" review of this show
for the Berkshire Eagle (I'm avoiding doing just that by writing this to the
list). If you're interested in reading it, Email me and I'll send you a
copy, or check the Eagle website on Wednesday (
<>) or my website
(<>) in a few days.


Seth Rogovoy
author of "The Essential Klezmer: A Music Lover's Guide to Jewish Roots and
coming in mid-May from Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill

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