With a little savvy, historical perspective and high level musicianship, the Klez Dispensers create music that not only is fun to listen to, but easily accessible to join right in and party with them. Mixing love songs, Jewish Hasidic, Latin, and American traditional jazz, the band moves freely in and out or in-between these genres without losing either the vintage or contemporary aspects of art music, turning it into a ferris wheel of sound and dimension few so-called klezmer fusion bands can come close to. Rising star clarinetist Alex Kontorovich, saxophonist Audrey Betsy Welber, violinist Amy Zakar, trumpeter Ben Holmes, pianist/composer Adrian Banner, bassist Heather Chriscaden Versace, and drummer Gregg Mervine comprise the core group, all young and skilled enough to make this music move, shake, and quake. Susan Watts possesses a wonderfully sweet voice, alluring and disarming whether singing mainly in Yiddish, and sometimes English. Traditional and standard tunes are included, but the program consists mainly of Banner's compositions or modified arrangements, and a handful from select bandmembers. All the joy, tragi-comedy, or abject blues are represented under the overall romantic premise, "kiss me and say you'll understand." The first track "Papirosn" mixes con job Jewish and Afro-Cuban cha cha cha in a kitschy yet charming way. Trad jazz lovers or fans of Don Byron's Raymond Scott/John Kirby influenced "bug music" will thoroughly enjoy the jovial, cops 'n' robbers chase scene madness songs "Ray Charleston" and "Goldenshteyn Sirbas." The hopping, straight klezmer track "Millville Freylekh" Kontorovich's original dance tune "Sirba" and sexy lap dance song "Fischer Tanz" are as delightful as they are energetic, not over the top but just short of smoking. At her best on the bittersweet waltz "Liebes Shmertzn," Watts sings with a perfectly yearning, purely Yiddish feeling of hope and desire, while her hang ups strewn over the swing base of "Oy Mame" indicate her moves may not be working when they should. She interprets the all-time classic "Bay Mir Bistu Sheyn" (spelled this way on purpose) with English lyrics in the most delightful, convincing manner, helped by Zakar and Versace à la the Andrews Sisters. Watts can also mix and match Yiddish and English lyrics with scat, as done expertly during the song of doubt "Joseph, Joseph." As the musicianship here is consistently extraordinary, Susan Watts is the star on this date, and deserves much of the spotlight. Other musics here run from sacred or reverent to adorational ballads, and a nice tribute to the town of Belz, always focused yet diverse with every phrase, nuance, and pound of great music. This is the third effort for the Klez Dispensers, and considering the world music community is always showing us we have many more commonalities than stark differences, hopefully it will not be their last.
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AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos