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George Robinson, GRComm@ writes for the Jewish Week. His book, "Essential Judaism," was published in hardcover by Pocket Books, March 2000. You can find out more at his website.

Articles by George Robinson, available on the KlezmerShack, are:

2004 Chanukah Roundup, by George Robinson, sent 2 Dec 2004.

The Year's Best: the annual "best of" column, by George Robinson, sent 25 Nov 2002.

A Religious Experience: A roundup of recent Jewish liturgical music, by George Robinson, sent 26 Aug 2002.

More Than Klezmer: A sampler of Yiddish vaudeville, folk music and even art song, sent 9 Aug 2002.

Spring Sephardic Music Roundup, send 3 May 2002.

The Spring Roundup, part 1, sent 9 Mar 2002.

The Spring Roundup, part 2, sent 9 Mar 2002.

The Best of 2001 - Hanukah suggestions, sent 7 Dec 2001.

Isaac Stern: Beyond the Fiddle to the Heart of a Man, sent out 5 Oct 2001.

Sounds for the Jewish New Year, sent out 23 Nov 2001.

Slobin on Beregovski (and the survival of Klezmer Music), sent out 30 Aug 2001.

Women of Valor, sent out 15 Aug 2001.

Shabbat, for Starters, sent out 3 Jun 2001.

From Liturgical Rock to the Postmodern, sent out 15 May 2001.

A Sephardic Passover, sent out 25 Mar 2001.

Oh, Klezmer, sent out 18 Mar 2001.

Jewish Classical Music, sent out 1 Mar 2001.

Best of 2000, send out 23 Dec 2000.

Holiday Music for Hanukkah, 6 Dec 2000.

Kidding on the Square, 9/29/00, from the Jewish Week

From the Catskills to Canada, 6/15/00, from the Jewish Week

Sephardic Survey, 05/00, from the Jewish Week

1999 Klezmer Wrapup, from the Jewish Week

Sisters in Swing, 12/15/99, from the Jewish Week

Bending the Genres, October 1998, from the Jewish Week

The Klezmer Drums of Passion, September 1998, from the Jewish Week

Drums of Passion, summer, 1998, from the Jewish Week

Other klezmer articles
on the Internet

The best Jewish music of 2002

from the author, 25 Nov '02.
Reprinted by permission of the author.

by George Robinson,

Note: Don't click on any links until the entire file loads, or else the links won't work. I apologize for the inconvenience. webmaster

Chekroun, Alain and Taoufik Bestandji / Chants des Synagogues du Maghreb
Chevan, David and Warren Byrd / This is the Afro-Semitic Experience
Divahn / Divahn
Gendler, Arkady / My Hometown Soroke
Kol Oud Tof Trio / Gazelle
London, Frank, Lorin Sklamberg and Rob Schwimmer / The Zmiros Project
Miriam / Wings of Light
Naye Kapelye, Di / A Mazeldiker Yid
Rodriguez, Roberto / El Danzon de Moises
Tarras, Dave, with the Musiker Brothers / Tanz!

Honorable Mentions

The past twelve months have brought such an embarrassment of riches that my ten-best CDs list could have 19 titles on it. However, for reasons of space, I limited myself to a ten-best with nine very honorable mentions. What follows (in alphabetical order) are all of the five-star records of the previous year; you won't go wrong with any of these.

album coverChekroun, Alain and Taoufik Bestandji / Chants des Synagogues du Maghreb (Magda). This is one of most exciting albums of Jewish music I've heard in months. Chekroun is a cantor originally from the Maghreb and here he joins with an orchestra of top-notch Algerian musicians for a program of Jewish liturgy set to classical Arabic melodies. His voice is a boyish tenor, sinuous and supple, and he handles the Arabic-style melisma with grace and authority. The settings are highly imaginative and effective and the instrumental backing is superb.(Distributed in the U.S. by Hatikvah Music -- or 1-323-655-7083.)

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album cover>Chevan, David and Warren Byrd / This is the Afro-Semitic Experience (Reckless DC Records). The new Byrd-Chevan CD represents the unveiling of the eponymous nonet, a band that the duo has been gigging with for a while. From the opening cut, a hard-swinging, Latin-tinged Eliyahu Hanavi to the closing Waters of Babylon, the Afro-Semitic Experience rocks the house. The band is uniformly excellent, with the use of Stacy Phillips's tangy Harlow resonator and lap steel guitars an innovative touch. Byrd's muscular, angular solos and rock-solid rhythms from Chevan and percussionists Alvin Carter Jr. and Baba David Coleman keep things moving handsomely. There are two pungent originals by Chevan, both written in a convincingly Yiddish-Middle Eastern vein, Tashlikh and Nefesh. The band is equally comfortable with the fractured gospel of Charles Mingus's Better Get Hit In Your Soul, which gets an almost country-and-western treatment, and the more contemplative strains of Abdullah Ibrahim's lovely Water from an Ancient Well. I particularly enjoy the slipping, sliding reimagination of the Yiddish chestnut Sha Shtil, here turned into a bubbling stew of mambo rhythms and funky African-flavored percussion, with a powerful, honking tenor sax solo by (hey, that's his name). And this is a good place to note that I should have given that same five-star rating to their 2001 recording, Let Us Break Bread Together, a CD that has grown in my estimation with the passing of time.

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album coverDivahn / Divahn (Miz Rocky Records). A stunning debut! This quartet of women musicians, led by vocalist-guitarist Galeet Dardashti, specialize in astute chamber arrangments of Sephardi and Mizrachi songs and they play and sing them brilliantly. Darting, stabbing rhythms, throaty, urgent vocals and intricate and intelligent arrangements, this is a flat-out thrilling record. (Available from

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album coverGendler, Arkady / My Hometown Soroke: Yiddish Songs of the Ukraine (Jewish Music Festival). There is still a large musical literature in Yiddish that hasn't been documented, pockets of regional traditions that will cease to exist when the older musicians and ordinary people who lived with them die. This CD is an important example of how these traditions can be saved and transmitted to another generation. Gendler is a musician from a town in what once was known as Bessarabia and now is part of Moldova, and he is a living carrier of a bit of the musical history of the Jews of Ukraine. The voice was probably quite lovely a decade or two ago, it is still expressive and subtle. The songs are, for the most part, new to me. An important and often moving recording. (Available from the Jewish Music Festival of Berkeley -- or 510-848-0237, x226).

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album coverKol Oud Tof Trio / Gazelle (Magda). If you have just a little Hebrew you know that the name of this group means "voice, oud, drum," and that is what this Israeli group features. Esti Kenan-Ofri is an Italian-born, classically trained soprano with a lilting, sweet voice; Armand Sabach is a Moroccan-born oud player who specializes in classical Arabic music; percussionist Oren Fried is an Israeli native with an extensive background in jazz. The result is a seamless and engaging collaboration that combines Hebrew liturgical poetry, Ladino and Arabic classical modes in a beautiful blend. (Distributed in the U.S. by Hatikvah Music -- or 1-323-655-7083.)

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album coverLondon, Frank, Lorin Sklamberg and Rob Schwimmer / The Zmiros Project (Traditional Crossroads). London and Sklamberg continue to explore the heart of Jewish religious music in this spirited, moving followup to 1999's Nigunim. Swapping that set's Uri Caine for another keyboard player, Rob Schwimmer, they essay the table songs associated the Sabbath, the zmirot and do so with fervor and wit. This is one of the most exciting albums of Jewish music I've heard since . .. well, since Nigunim.

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Miriam / Wings of Light (Hatikvah Music). Miriam Maron Emhoff, a nurse who has been active in meditation and other forms of non-medical healing, offers a low-key album here of songs from a range of composers, and the sheer minimalism of the set is a refreching change from the pile of overproduced stuff that crosses this desk. Her voice is a bit like a lighter version of Neshama Carlebach's, a little smoky, sweetly naive. The material is mostly slow, reflective, contemplative and the arrangements are very simple, mostly just acoustic guitar and a little harp. As always, I could live without the synthesizer, but it's pretty unobtrusive here. Less is more. This is a very pleasing album, although there is a certain sameness to the selections; I'm not qualified to comment on whether it has medicinal value, but the musical worth is indisputable. (Available from or 1-323-655-7083.)

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album coverNaye Kapelye, Di / A Mazeldiker Yid (Oriente). An intense and very entertaining examination of the Jewish music of the regions of Marmures and Bukovina in Northern Rumania, a particularly fertile ground for cross-pollinating musicians from Jewish, Gypsy and Hungarian communities, with Hasidic and klezmer elements intermingling in ways that will fascinate the ethnomusicologist and delight anyone. Di Naye Kapelye's usual excellent quintet is beefed up with the addition of Mihaly Sipos and Peter Eri of Muszikas. This is a splendid example of how to revisit a tradition without embalming it. Great music and great fun.

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album coverRodriguez, Roberto / El Danzon de Moises (Tzadik). A charming and evocative record. Rodriguez is a world-class Latin percussionist who was involved musically with Havana's Jewish community and here revisits both that connection and his own musical roots in the danzon music of Cuba. This is pre-salsa Cuban music, made by small string orchestras, here augmented by some terrific jazz and world-music horn players. If you know the great Orquesta Aragon, you know what I mean. There are definite echoes of Eastern Europe, although you could debate how Jewish this is. A lovely record that I keep returning to.

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album coverTarras, Dave, with the Musiker Brothers / Tanz! (Columbia/Legacy). You can have Brandwein and Beckerman, I'll take Tarras. Maybe it's my affinity with jazz that makes me favor the divine Dave over his main rivals, but I prefer to think it's his superior musicianship (not that they weren't also brilliant). This 1955 set shows him in peak form, with a great band that includes several survivors of the Swing Era. This is a great party record -- okay, maybe a bar mitzvah record -- mirthful and tuneful, with Tarras play entirely in a klezmer vein (as opposed to the jazz-inflected work heard on the Radio Project set). Classic stuff and a must-have.

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Honorable mention

From Avenue A to the Great White Way / Yiddish and American Popular Songs from 1914-1950" (Columbia/Legacy).

Chants de Traverse (Hatikvah Music). (Distributed in the U.S. by Hatikvah Music -- or 1-323-655-7083.)

Chicago Klezmer Ensemble / Early Recordings, 1987-89 (Oriente). (Distributed in the U.S. by Hatikvah Music -- or 1-323-655-7083.)

Klezmatics, The / Rise Up! Shteyt Oyf! (Rounder). [The release of this CD has been held up, apparently due to upheavals in the band. When it comes out, grab it.]

Krakauer, David and Klezmer Madness / The Twelve Tribes (Label Bleu).

Layman, Sandra / Little Blackbird (Rosin Dust).

Parfums de Mediterranee (EMI France). (Distributed in the U.S. by Hatikvah Music -- or 1-323-655-7083.)

Reich, Steve / Tehillim/The Desert Music (Canteloupe).

Schwartz, Abe / The Klezmer King (Columbia/Legacy).

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Contents copyright © 2002 by George Robinson. Used with permission. All rights reserved. Page last revised 11 June, 2007.