Another Fleisher hits his stride

June 11, 2005|By Rashod D. Ollison | Rashod D. Ollison,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

He's "made it" in New York.

In the last five years or so, singer-producer Julian Fleisher has performed all over the Big Apple and beyond, his energetic mix of modern pop, show tunes and traditional jazz garnering praise from the Village Voice, The New York Times, Billboard magazine and other top publications.

But for a while, it seemed the man couldn't even get arrested in his native Baltimore.

"I'm surprised it's taken this long to get a show in Baltimore," says Fleisher, who's calling from his East Village home in New York City. The son of concert piano legend Leon Fleisher will headline Everyman Theatre's annual Salut! fund-raiser tonight in the Brown Center at the Maryland Institute College of Art. "Everyman Theatre is an exciting theater, so I'm glad to be a part of the event. I'm happy to perform in Baltimore. Finally."

One thing to know about the handsome, 30-something song stylist: He despises categorization. His music, though rooted firmly in traditional pop with an undeniable (sometimes overbearing) Broadway gloss, comes from different bags.

"Is it rock? Is it pop? Is it jazz? Is it Tin Pan Alley? Who the hell cares?" Fleisher says. "As long as it's good, that's all that matters. I've been called the human iPod, because at my shows you'll hear so many different things. If it swings, it sings. That's my rule."

His one album, 2002's glittery Rather Big, is a generous showcase. As he tosses together a tried-and-true standard ("Witchcraft"), an old rock tune ("For What It's Worth"), Carpenters classics ("Close to You" and "Rainy Days and Mondays"), a Prince ballad ("How Come U Don't Call Me Anymore"), a Joni Mitchell number ("The Dry Cleaner From Des Moines"), the artist imbues the music with energy, often drastically re-interpreting the familiar songs.

You get the sense that his essence isn't easily captured in the studio. With his penchant for grand vocal mannerisms (ending songs on a big, big note, for instance), Fleisher, whose range is quite impressive, belongs on stage.

"Making a record was more like painting than anything else," says the gregarious singer. "What I can't do live, like, sing my own background vocals, I can do in the studio, add a color here or there. But I love to interact with the audience. I like to talk about what's happening right now, in the moment. I like it to feel like you're in a living room and not a concert hall."

Backed by the 11 members of his Rather Big Band, it will surely be a challenge to make it all feel intimate. But by all indications, Fleisher has the charisma to pull it off.

"My approach is more rhythmic, so it's not cabaret," he says. "I say I'm a nightclub singer or just a singer. I do such a wide range of stuff. My tastes are pretty eclectic. I use whatever term that gets people excited and in the door."

Growing up, Fleisher was, of course, surrounded by music. He studied voice as a child but didn't consider a career in music until after college. Fleisher says his relationship to music was never as intense as his father's.

"The level I'm on is just talent," Fleisher says. "He's on the level of genius. My parents divorced when I was a kid, so I didn't see a lot of him. But he taught me that what matters in music is melody, harmony and rhythm, especially rhythm. For a classical guy, my father has a lot of rhythm."

Which he will showcase during his son's show tonight. Father and son will share the stage for a performance of "The Man I Love."

"It will be special," Fleisher says. "And it's going to be even more special in Baltimore."

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