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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

Oh, Klezmer

from the author, 18 Mar '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

Klezperanto / Klezperanto!
Krakauer, David / A New Hot One
Kroke / "Trio" & "Eden"
La'om / Riffkele
London, Frank / Invocations
Princeton Klez Dispensers / Indispensable: From Old Warsaw to Old Nassau
Gregori Schechter's Klezmer Festival Band / Live on the South Bank
Strom, Yale / Garden of Yidn
YidCore / YidCore
Zemel, Alan / Ju-Jive

Whenever I tell someone I review Jewish music, their immediate response is "Oh, klezmer."

Well not only klezmer -- if you read this column regularly you know that -- but, yeah, I review klezmer.

And there is a lot of it out there now, much of it spirited and inventive. The labels are coming unglued from the bottles as the genre lines are breaking down. Happily, most of the contents are not only non-toxic but downright good for you. So here's the latest supplies from the New Klez pharmacy.

Klezperanto: "Klezperanto!" (Naxos World). The purists are going to hate this one -- the tempi are way too fast for traditional klezmer. But this is spirited jazz-inflected klezmer. No vocals, just a sextet that can flat-out play. Imaginative repertoire, too. How about "Rozhinkes mit Mandln" and "Oyfn Pripitchok" as a Latin dance medley? A Gypsy tune reworked as surf music? "A Night in Tunisia" as a freilach? Believe it or not, it all works. The rest of the program is as unpredictable and varied as you can imagine. (It's not that they can't play it straight; these guys are all members of the Klezmer Conservatory Band in their day jobs.) But this is a swell change of pace, terrific fun. Rating: 5 stars.

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Krakauer, David: "A New Hot One" (Harmonia Mundi). New label, new band, but the same wailing clarinet. And on this set, Krakauer is almost literally wailing from start to finish, his superb technique and strong lungs on display throughout. Almost all of this recording is taken at a breakneck tempo and the playing is powerful and occasionally harsh. The result is a bit repetitive, with the mood changed only on "Love Song for Lemberg/Lvov," where the leader shows off the dark tones of his lower register to great effect. Rating: 4½ stars.

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Kroke: "Trio" and "Eden" (Hatikvah Music). As the title of the first set states, this is a trio, violin (Tomasz Kurkurba), accordion (Jerzy Bawol) and bass (Tomasz Lato) and, as the band's name tells you, they are Polish musicians from Cracow. I'm not going to get into the "can non-Jews play klezmer" argument. As far as I'm concerned, the question is whether these three non-Jews can play. And they can. Graduates of the conservatory in their eponymous home town, the trio are all excellent musicians with a considerable feel for the Jewish, Gypsy and Balkan idioms that are the heart of their music. There are times when they move into a more abstract vein that betrays their conservatory background, and the vocals are pretty dire throughout both sets, but there is a lot of exciting and original music here. Ratings: "Trio" -- 4½ stars; "Eden" -- 4 stars. (Available from Hatikvah Music 323-655-7083.)

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La'om: "Riffkele" (Raumer). More non-Jews, this time German. Not nearly as polished as Kroke (that's not a pun), these guys play mainstream klezmer with a rough enthusiasm and energy that is infectious. This is a live recording and it's sloppy the way such things often are. The rhythms are particularly ragged at times, and intonation problems mess with the harmonies. It will be interesting to see what develops. Rating: 3 stars.

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London, Frank: "Invocations" (Tzadik) Frank London has been doing so many interesting things, so many unexpected things that one approaches his new CD with equal parts anticipation and curiosity. Happily, the anticipation is rewarded, the curiosity fulfilled by something unexpected. Although a quartet session, with London backed by harmonium, bass and glass harmonica, "Invocations" is really a showcase for London, playing liturgical music from the golden age of hazanut. Anyone whose heard him with either of his regular bands knows that when the occasion demands he can play fast and he can play pretty, but this is a haunting -- and haunted -- sounding record, working on the listener in slow increments, with London's horn sounding as much like a shofar as a trumpet. Factor in the gentle wheeziness of the harmonium and the eerie shrilling of the glass harmonica and the result is powerful and strange, unmistakably spiritual music unlike anything you've heard before. Rating: 5 stars.

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Princeton Klez Dispensers: "Indispensable: From Old Warsaw to Old Nassau" (Self-distributed). As the name suggests, this band is based at Princeton University; how else to explain a rhythm section that includes a molecular biologist and a mathematician. Like so many first albums by relatively new bands -- they've been together about three years -- this is ragged in the unison passages and some of the rhythm and tempo shifts are awkward. The solo passages as a whole work better, and there is definite talent here. I look forward to their next effort. Rating: 3 stars.

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Gregori Schechter's Klezmer Festival Band: "Live on the South Bank" (Jewish Music Heritage). Schechter is a Russian emigre, now based in London. He plays a heavily Russian-inflected klezmer, with snatches of Russian and Russo-Gypsy music, rather heavy on cliche material like "Zwei Gitarres" and "My Yiddishe Mama." Sound on this live recording is muddy, especially on ensemble passages and the drummer is mixed way up in front. A couple of cuts seem to end in mid-song. Schechter plays fast and the band seems to keep up with him. I'm not sure how far I trust anyone who can list "Di Naye Sher" as an unnamed freilach. Rating: 3 for the music, what I can hear of it, 0 for the recording quality.

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Strom, Yale: "Garden of Yidn" (Naxos World). Sort of a change of pace for Strom, this album features members of both his bands, Klazzj and Hot Pstromi, and the moody mezzo of his wife Elizabeth Schwartz. Focussing on a lot of Russian and gypsy material (and even the Ladino numbers come out sounding that way), the set has a dark, almost sinister quality, sort of what would happen if a klezmer band took on Brecht and Weill. The jazz version of "Moscow Nights" is kind of a mistake, though. Inventive and a off the beaten path. Rating: 4 stars.

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YidCore: "YidCore" (Swell). Is this someone's idea of a joke? Australian hardcore Jewish music. The Dead Kennedys meet Naomi Shemer? I've always thought that hardcore was interesting for about a minute-and-a-half, the average length of a cut on a ‘core band's album. I think these guys are serious about their Judaism and even about their music, but this is way beyond me. Rating: 2 stars, unless Jello Biafra is one of your heroes, in which case you'll probably take on a couple more.

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Zemel, Alan: "Ju-Jive" (MP3.Com). A bunch of original Jewish-inflected tunes, all of them played on synthesizer and sampler. I can't evaluate Zemel's writing because I found the synth sound so irritating that I couldn't get through the entire CD. It's like a cross between a particularly shrill music box and a series of MIDI files. I can't rate music that I wasn't able to listen to so, to be perfectly fair, this CD goes unrated.

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