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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

Best of 2000

from the author, 23 Dec '01.
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

Cohen, Avishai, and the International Vamp Band / Unity
Ben-Zaken, Etty / The Bride Unfastens Her Braids, the Groom Faints: Ladino Love Songs
Budowitz / Wedding Without a Bride
Adrienne Cooper and Zalmen Mlotek / Ghetto Tango
Leverett, Margot / The Art of Klezmer Clarinet
Levy, Mark / I'm a Little Tailor: Yiddish Work Songs
London, Frank, Lorin Sklamberg and Uri Caine / Nigunim
Metropolitan Klezmer, featuring Isle of Klezbos / Mosaic Persuasion
Pharoah's Daughter / Out of the Reeds
Schaechter-Gottesman, Beyle / Zumerteg/Summer Days
Yannatou, Savina / Spring in Salonika

Every year the list of excellent new recordings of Jewish music seems to get longer. Maybe I'm just listening harder or hearing more.

Whatever the reason, it has become impossible to reprint all of my five-star reviews of the previous 12 months in the space allotted, so I have come up with an acceptable alternative. Below, in alphabetical order, are the ten best CDs of 2000, followed by the names of the other five-star records of the year. Rest assured, you won't go wrong by acquiring any of these excellent recordings.

Ben-Zaken, Etty: "The Bride Unfastens Her Braids, the Groom Faints: Ladino Love Songs" (New Albion). Torrid stuff, this. Ben-Zaken has one of those husky, smoky altos like the great flamenco cantaoras, and she wields it with real power. The instrumental sound, from the Ensemble Yatán Atán, is highly reminiscent of Renaissance dance music, like many bands in this genre. A smoldering recording that manages to bring up unfamiliar material and avoids the air of sameness that too often creeps into recording in this genre by, shall we say, visitors. Rating: 5 stars.

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album coverBudowitz: "Wedding Without a Bride" (Buda Musique). The brilliant European band recreates the experience of an old-world wedding, complete with badkhones. As with their first CD and the Khevrisa set (below), the sound is not what you are expecting. The traditional East European klezmer sound is driven by tsimbl and violin, with brass and clarinet taking a distant back seat. A magnificent piece of historical reconstruction that is also a pleasure to listen and to dance to. Rating: 5 stars.

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album coverCooper, Adrienne and Zalmen Mlotek: "Ghetto Tango" (Traditional Crossroads).In one of the most famous moments in Claude Lanzmann's film "Shoah," a former Warsaw Ghetto fighter says, "If you could lick my heart, it would poison you." I thought of that quote as I listened to this magnificent but relentlessly disturbing record. Cooper and Mlotek are two of the best that contemporary Yiddish music has to offer, and this collection of songs from the ghettos of the Nazi era is brilliantly performed. As might be expected, every song here is corrosive, even the lullabies carry a powerful accusatory charge. A great record but certainly not a comfortable one. Rating: 5 stars.

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album coverLeverett, Margot: "The Art of Klezmer Clarinet" (Traditional Crossroads). A masterful showcase for one of the strongest voices on clarinet in traditional klezmer. Leverett, an original Klezmatic who now splits her time between Kapelye and Mikveh, works the whole range of the instrument with equal facility and has as sure a grasp over it's expressive voice as anyone working in the genre. She brings new insight to old chestnuts like "Gasn Nign" and the obligatory "Firn di Mekhetonim Aheym." Able support from an excellent group of musicians, particularly Mimi Rabson on violin. An absolute must for anyone with an interest in or taste for klezmer clarinet. Rating: 5 stars.

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Levy, Mark: "I'm a Little Tailor: Yiddish Work Songs" (Mitzvah Music). A wonderfully programmed and performed collection of songs about work and struggle by singer-guitarist Mark Levy. Levy has a rich, pliant baritone, reminiscent of Israeli folk singer Hillel Raveh (look in your parents' record collection -- they'll have some of his recordings as half of Hillel and Aviva), and an intelligently percussive acoustic guitar style. The songs are, for the most part, unfamiliar, and Levy gives them an impassioned, moving reading. Granted, I'm a sucker for any recording of "Mayn Rue Plats," but his is really fresh. Rating: 5 stars.

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album coverLondon, Frank, Lorin Sklamberg and Uri Caine: "Nigunim" (Tzadik). A masterpiece. Three heavyweights combine forces for a set of Hasidic tunes performed with extraordinary power. Impeccable playing and Sklamberg's reedy tenor works perfectly here. If you are serious about Jewish music, you should have this record. Rating: 5 stars.

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album coverMetropolitan Klezmer, featuring Isle of Klezbos: "Mosaic Persuasion" (Rhythm Music). It sure didn't take long for these guys to emerge one of the best traditional klezmer bands around. Their first CD served notice that they were a force to be reckoned with and there sure wasn't a sophomore jinx. A tighter, more unified sound than ever, with leader Eve Sicular booting things along from her drum kit. A band that can handle any tempo and a wide range of moods with equal mastery. Rating: 5 stars.

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album coverPharoah's Daughter: "Out of the Reeds" (Knitting Factory). This is the album that Basya Schechter was born to make -- reverent, intelligent and exciting settings of classic Jewish liturgy and folksongs with superb backing by her own band and a distinguished group of guests including Anthony Coleman and Matt Darriau. From a haunting "Hevel" through a niggun created from a West African melody, from an eerie "Eicha" through the best new "Lecha Dodi" I've heard in years, a powerhouse "Shnirele Perele," "Ija Mia" a wonderful Ladino closing -- well, there simply isn't a false step. A bona fide, genuine, gilt-edged masterpiece. Rating: 5 stars.

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Schaechter-Gottesman, Beyle: "Zumerteg/Summer Days" (Yiddishland). Schaechter-Gottesman is a rarity -- an active Yiddish poet. She is also a songwriter and singer who has set her own poetry; on this CD she is joined by a distinguished supporting cast including New Klez vets Michael Alpert, Alicia Svigals and Lorin Sklamberg. The set is not new, but the label that has reissued it is, and this is a splendid way for them to start up. Schaechter-Gottesman is a poet and songwriter who tends toward the wistful and bittersweet, with a nicely judged line of nature imagery. The melodies here are limpid and poignant, and the performances just lovely. A really fine record. Rating: 5 stars.

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Yannatou, Savina: "Spring in Salonika" (Lyra). Yannatou is what Fortuna is trying to be, a powerful singer who is alternately ethereal and plaintive, with an instrument that is expressive far beyond an apparently limited range. The musicians backing her are sensitive accompanists and gifted improvisers, particularly violinist Kyriakos Gouvéntas and reed player Yannis Kaimákis. This is a gem, a great example of how to keep a tradition alive without performing musical taxidermy. Rating: 5 stars.

And don't forget:

Finjan: " Dancing on Water" (Rounder).
Klezmer Conservatory Band: "Dance Me to the End of Love" (Rounder).
Lucas, Gary: "Street of Lost Brothers" (Tzadik).
Rossi, Salmone: "The Songs of Solomon" (Panton).
Troyke, Karsten: "Vergessene Lieder" (Raumer).

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Contents copyright © 2001 by George Robinson. Used with permission. All rights reserved. Page last revised 11 June, 2007.