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George Robinson, grcomm@grcomm.cnc.net 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:

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


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The Klezmatics

Andy Statman

Tzimmes

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Jewish Sounds, 10/16/1998
Bending the Genres: Jewish and black sacred traditions, reggae in Yiddish and Chava with the Klezmatics
by George Robinson, grcomm@grcomm.cnc.net

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

Maybe it's the holidays, but the influx of Jewish music this month has been deluge-like in proportions. That said, I'll split this month's reviews into two parts. This week brings a mind-boggling array of genre-benders. Next week will feature a treasure trove of Bernstein and Gershwin recordings.

In the meanwhile, l'shana tova to you; may 5758 bring you good things, and joyous sounds with which to celebrate them.

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Byrd, Warren and David Chevan / Avadim Hayinu -- Once We Were Slaves (Reckless DC Music). This is the nicest New Year's present I can imagine, a brilliant piano-bass duo reading of tunes from the Jewish and African-American sacred traditions and easily the best record I've reviewed this year. Warm, intelligent and swinging versions of "Shalom Aleichem," "Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho," Thomas Dorsey gospel standards and, particularly, the title tune. Reminiscent of the Hank Jones-Charlie Haden recording "Steal Away," and in no way inferior. A must. (Reckless DC Music, P.O. Box 6183, Whitneyville, CT 06517.) Rating: 5 stars.

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Governess, The -- Original Soundtrack from the Motion Picture" (Sony Classical). Film music without context is always a little hard to rate. Edward Sheamur's score for Sarah Goldbacher's period film about a Sephardic Jew in Victorian England is haunting on CD, but a little restricted in mood and color. I suspect a lot will depend on how much you can take of Ofra Haza, the Yemenite Whitney Houston (all breathy fake passion and boring scale-running licks), and how you feel about the film. If what you are looking for is Sephardic music, there are several performances by the excellent British group The Burning Bush here, but you'd be better off to get one of their recordings. Rating: 31/2 stars.

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King Django's Roots and Culture (Triple Crown Records). Reggae-ska in Yiddish? Why not? Both Jamaican musics and a lot of klezmer are built around a creative use of off-beats, and there's no reason a ska band can't have a mandolin player. Jeff Baker, AKA King Django, is a key figure in the NY branch of the ska revival and a Jew, and this CD is his attempt to meld those two roles. Occasionally silly (a ska version of "Haveinu Shalom Aleichem" that would not be out of place at the tackiest suburban bar mitzvah party) but mostly funky good fun. At its most serious, an anti-fascist anthem "Slaughter," it lacks the gravitas of Linton Kwesi Johnson, but has a power all its own. (Triple Crown Records: www.trescrown.com) Rating: 4 stars.

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Klezmatics, The, with Chava Alberstein / The Well (Xenophile). Okay, I said some pretty nasty things about Alberstein a few months ago (and I stand by them) but she is the most significant Israeli pop musician to acknowledge a debt to the Yiddish traditions, and this album draws tellingly on that account. With the Klezmatics on board, what else would you expect. Not too surprisingly, this is darker and more brooding than most of Alberstein's own recordings. The biggest surprise is how well her burnished mezzo merges with Lorin Sklamberg's reedy tenor. Of course, the musicianship is as superb as you would expect from the Matics. Highlight: a jauntily Brecht-Weillish "Ver Es Hot." Rating: 5 stars.

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Sex Mob / Din of Iniquity (Knitting Factory). Now this is one weird disc, which is what one should expect from a band fronted by guy who plays slide trumpet. I'm not making this up. Steven Bernstein plays slide trumpet. The sound is basically a lot like a trumpet with a lot of slurs. In itself, nothing special, although Bernstein is an inventive trumpeter in the post-Miles postmodern bag. What really makes this set happen though is the driving rhythm section of bassist Tony Scherr and drummer Kenny Wolleson. A lot of familiar tunes deconstructed into funk-cum-early Ornette jaggedness. Would you believe a bluesy "Macarena" and some James Bond theme covers? I have to think about this one some more. Rating: Somewhere between 3 and 4 stars. (Hey, this isn't an exact science.)

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Statman, Andy / The Hidden Light (Sony Classical). Andy Statman is not only a key figure in the klezmer revival but also a genuinely fine musician in multiple genres. That said, I must confess that I find his clarinet a trifle too cerebral, as this highly intelligent but understated session underlines. Statman's fast vibrato and adroit handling of all tempi should spell passion, but that is the one quality that I find lacking. Still, this is a superbly crafted set, from a lilting Bratslaver "L'Kha Dodi" through a spirited march-like duet with drummer Bob Weiner on "Parah Adumah (The Red Heifer)" and onward to the closing "Heritage Waltz." And Statman is really a brilliant mandolinist, one of the very best in the world. Rating: 41/2 stars (add that missing half star if you hear Statman differently from me).

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Tzimmes / KlezMyriad (Tzimmes Music). A very sweet, low-key folky album that owes more to people like Dave Grisman and the Sephardic sounds of Voice of the Turtle than to what most or you would think of as klezmer. Tight vocal harmonies combined with mandolin, acoustic guitar and violin sometimes echo the likes of Seals and Crofts (which is not a compliment in my book, but that's a matter of taste I guess). An thoughtful and passionate album that I respect a great deal. (www2.portal.ca/~jsiegel/tzimmes.html) Rating: 4 stars (but add another if this is your genre).

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Yom Hadash / When We Were Young (Self-produced). If Billy Joel is your idea of rock and roll and you like the idea of recasting liturgical music in that vein, you'll love this album, which reminds me of Joel and some of the seedier Beatles imitators of the late 60s. Cheesy organ sound reminds me of the Young Rascals (hey, I grew up on those guys, so it's cool by me). There's no gainsaying the sincerity of these guys and the musicianship is of a high quality, but this is definitely not to my taste. Still it is vastly preferable to the average "Chasidic Rock" set which manages to be neither Chasidic nor rock. (Yom Hadash, 39 Rounds St., #2, New Bedford, MA 02740). Rating: 3 stars, but add another if you like Billy Joel.


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Contents copyright © 1998 by George Robinson. Used with permission. All rights reserved. Page last revised 11 June, 2007.