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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

KlezmerShack reviews or info on artists in this review:

Major Bogdanski, capsule review by Ari Davidow

Info on Klezamir

Info on Oort, Mariejan van, and Jacques Verheijen

Peter Saltzman album mention in the Klezmershack Weblog

Other klezmer articles
on the Internet

From Liturgical Rock to the Postmodern

from the author, 15 May '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

Bang on a Can / Renegade Heaven
Beat'achon / West Side Z'mirot
Bloedow, Oren and Jennifer Charles / La Mar Fortuna
Bogdanski, Majer / Yiddish Songs
Evën Sh'siyah / The Way Jews Rock
Klezamir / Der Bloyfoygl of Happiness
Lang, David / The Passing Measures
Oort, Mariejan van, and Jacques Verheijen / Brikele, Benkshaft
Saltzman, Peter and the Revolution Ensemble / Kabbalah Blues/Quantum Funk
Soulfarm / Live at Wetlands
Wrona, Mauro / The Best of Yiddish Vaudeville
Zoom Golly / Let My People Go-Go

A wildly variegated batch this month, ranging from the liturgical rock of Evën Sh'siyah through the postmodern concert music of Bang on a Can to Jewish disco that actually works. But the biggest representation this month is a raft of Yiddish song.

Bang on a Can: "Renegade Heaven (Canteloupe Music). Here's an interesting conundrum. Bang on a Can, a wild bunch of avant-gardists, play music that has the textures and beat of rock and roll (Mark Stewart on electric guitar, Steven Schick on drums and percussion, Robert Black on bass could hold their own in any band you can name), but the composers they work with -- Arnold Dreyblatt, Julia Wolfe, Michael Gordon, Glenn Branca and Phil Kline in this first CD release on their new label -- are clearly conservatory-trained and their interest in shifting rhythm patterns and the dense colors that can be gotten by combining a rock rhythm section with cello and clarinet don't sound like a rock composer's idea of fun. What is it? Well, I don't know what to call it, but it's compelling, ferociously played and inventive stuff that demands careful listening. Rating: 5 stars.

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Beat'achon: "West Side Z'mirot" (Sameach). Although they style themselves as an a capella tight-harmony group in the style of the Persuasions, these guys have come to sound more like a college glee club or the Comedian Harmonists, with no lead vocal or bass line. This set is pleasant but quickly becomes repetitive. Without a strong bottom to their sound or a powerhouse lead singer, all the tunes sound pretty much the same, a sensation that is reinforced by the narrow range of colors and tempi on display here. Rating: 3 stars.

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Bloedow, Oren and Jennifer Charles: "La Mar Fortuna" (Tzadik). Try to imagine a band that combines a post-punk NY indie sound with faint echoes of guitar-based hard-bop, then overlay that musical mix with a Middle-Eastern exoticism, add in Spanish Renaissance flavorings and put the lyrics in Ladino. Have rock diva Jennifer Charles sing and sigh the entire thing in a voice somewhere in Marilyn-land, drenched in desire and bordering on sex. Charles and her co-founder of the NY band Elysian Fields, bassist Oren Bloedow, have put together an intriguing set that alternately enchants and infuriates. Rating: 4 stars.

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Bogdanski, Majer: "Yiddish Songs" (Jewish Music Heritage). This is an important field recording of Bogdanski, a survivor in every sense of the word, a member of the Jewish Socialist Bund in Poland who was raised as an observant Jew. As a result, he knows an extraordinary range of Yiddish songs both secular and sacred. This recording offers a generous 19 selections, many of them never before recorded. A treasure trove for musicians and historians. Bogdanski sings unaccompanied on the entire disc and he gets a trifle monotonous in extended listening, but sampled in smaller doses, this is exhilarating. Rating: 5 stars for historical value; 4 stars for performance.

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Evën Sh'siyah: "The Way Jews Rock" (Elisha Prero Productions). Apparently the new role model for observant Jewish rockers is the Allman Brothers Band. Both these guys and Soulfarm (see below) are turning into '70s guitar-driven arena-rock bands with dual lead guitars and extended jams. To their credit, Even Sh'siyah has held onto over some of the punkish elements in their sound and their sense of fun, but this is a bit more attenuated than their excellent first CD. Rating: 4 stars.

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Klezamir: "Der Bloyfoygl of Happiness" (Self-produced). Their third album is the best yet, a bouncy, tough set with a nicely balanced mix of Sholom Secunda shmaltz, Balkan bop and lively instrumental jams. I'm still a little skeptical of the flute as a klezmer (or jazz) instrument but Amy Rose can flat-out play, and new lead vocalist Felicia Shpall brings some smoldering to the recipe. (CD available from their website: Excellent. Rating: 5 stars.

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Lang, David: "The Passing Measures" (Canteloupe Music). Lang's composition "for bass clarinet, amplified orchestra and women's voices," is organized along similar principles to those of the classic works of minimalism and the British composer Gavin Bryars -- long, sustained tones, almost like drones in Indian music, against which small, incremental motivic changes occur. The women's voices fade in and out against the sighing chords and tinkling of percussion, while jazz reedman Marty Ehrlich weaves a series of (very) slowly evolving melodic moments in a figure/ground relationship with the orchestra. When Ehrlich's somber dark tones suddenly emerge from the background, the effect can be devastatingly beautiful. A difficult album that requires real concentration but rewards it amply. Rating: 5 stars.

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Oort, Mariejan van, and Jacques Verheijen: "Brikele" (Syncoop); "Benkshaft" (I-C-U-B4-T). Listening to these two attractive sets of Yiddish song by van Oort and Verheijen, Dutch singer and pianist, respectively, I was struck by how much Verheijen reminded me of the great lieder pianist Gerald Moore; that's when I realized what bothered me about these CDs: Van Oort has a lovely soprano voice and the performances are impeccable, but on the first of these sets they are a bit studied, academic. Verheijen conveys more emotion in his playing but there is a certain coldness at the heart of "Brikele." Things improve somewhat on "Benkshaft," and if you were going to buy only one of these, that would be the better choice. Rating: "Brikele" 4 stars; "Benkshaft" 4-1/2 stars. (You can find these CDs at Hatikvah Music,

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Saltzman, Peter and the Revolution Ensemble: "Kabbalah Blues/Quantum Funk" (Self-produced). This Chicago-based jazz group is definitely one to watch for. This set, their first, is a wonderfully witty and passionate combination of a wide range of influences from Debussy to Mingus, from Gershwin to Webern, from the Art Ensemble of Chicago to Eddie Palmieri. The result is a brilliant jazz-classical fusion with a seriously Jewish soul. Salzman is a superb writer and fine pianist and the rest of the group are inventive and skillful. (Available from the group's website, Rating: 5 stars.

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Soulfarm: "Live at Wetlands" (Phoenix Media). Guitar heroes live on in Jewish rock. C Lanzboim and the rest of what used to be Inasense are now doing a variation on Allmans/Dead jams, driven by his soaring guitar lines. At their best, these guys remind me of the late great John Cipollina and Quicksilver Messenger Service; at their worst, Grand Funk Railroad. Rating: 3-1/2 stars.

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Wrona, Mauro: "The Best of Yiddish Vaudeville" (MCD World). Energetic and traditional recording of Yiddish classics like "Bei Mir Bist du Schon," "Yidl Mitn Fidl" and "Rumenya, Rumenya." Wrona suffers from intonation problems and a wobble, but he's an expressive singer. Depends on how badly you need another recording of "Abi Gezunt," I guess. Rating: 3 stars.

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Zoom Golly: "Let My People Go-Go" (Roundlight). Traditional Israeli folk chestnuts like "Zum Gali," "Shalom Chaverim" and " David Melech Yisrael" given the dance-genre treatment, with reggae and Latin beats, funk bass, drum machine -- the whole nine yards of the dance floor. I was all set to hate this but it's so infectious, so good-humored and so . . . well, so danceable, that I was won over. Great unlikely fun. Rating: 4 stars.

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