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George Robinson, 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

More about

About Klezamir

About Shawn's Kugel

About Souls of Fire

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Jewish Sounds, summer 1998
The Klezmer Drums of Passion: A percussive set from Klezamir and a jazzy debut from Shawn's Kugel
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

Klezamir / Back in the Shtetl Again
The Philharmonic Experience / The Music of Rabbi Michel Twerski
Shawn's Kugel / Simcha!
Judy Silver / Beyond Tomorrow
Souls of Fire / Firedancing

Suppose there was a new federal law that said every jazz album must include a version of "Take the A Train." Much as I adore Billy Strayhorn's anthem, I'd get pretty tired of hearing every band -- no matter their genre of jazz -- playing it.

That's a little bit how I feel about a lot of recent klezmer recordings. Do we really need another version of "Firn di Mekhutonim Aheym?" In fact, two of this month's CDS have recordings of that standard, but there are also a raft of new or unlikely tunes to be heard as well. Thank goodness.

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Klezamir / Back in the Shtetl Again (self-produced). It's not exactly a revelation that a band playing a rhythm-driven music is shaped by its drummer. The new set from this Northampton, MA, based quintet is a case in point. Klezamir's first CD was a pleasant, often sprightly affair with jazz and country flavors, but the foregrounding of flute and acoustic guitar -- albeit a welcome change from the sound of most New Klezmer -- left the set feeling a bit insubstantial. Enter Keith Levreault, the band's new drummer. From the opening cut of "Shtetl," a powerhouse reading of the Hasidic tune "Vos Vet Zeyn" this record rocks. Even the flute/guitar numbers are transformed, (although I find flute a bit inexpressive for klezmer). A nicely programmed set, with some pleasingly unfamiliar material. The only real disappointment is a sluggish version of "Rumenye, Rumenye," a tune that is about ready for retirement anyway. Keep an eye on these guys; I suspect we'll be hearing more from them. (Klezamir's two CDS can be ordered from the website, or from Klezamir, c/o Amy Rose, 705 Station Rd., Amherst, MA 01002.) Rating: four stars.

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Philharmonic Experience, The / The Music of Rabbi Michel Twerski (Jewish Alternative Movement). Twerski is a prominent Hasidic rabbi from Milwaukee, known for his settings of the liturgy as much for his leadership and warmth. Recently, the Milwaukee Symphony performed arrangements of some of his compositions. This CD, however, uses a pickup group composed of Israel Philharmonic players conducted by Zeev Dorman, pianist Daniel Beliavsky and tenor Avromie Flam, performing charts by Yisroel Lamm. The result is infuriating. Twerski's melodies are charming and simple, the work of a man who is not a professional musician but who clearly has the soul of a tzadik. Lamm's arrangements are flatulent pseudo-Broadway bombast, a perfect complement to Flam's posturing vocals, drenched in fake emotion. The orchestra plays exceptionally well, but to what purpose? It is unusual for a record to make me angry. This record did that by insulting the music it purports to showcase. Rating: no stars, with a heartfelt apology to Rabbi Twerski.

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Shawn's Kugel / Simcha! (Popover Productions). Shawn Weaver was the reed player in the Seattle-based Mazeltones for nearly a decade before forming this new band. On clarinet he has the warm dark tone of Artie Shaw and a sure sense of swing. The latter, happily, is a trait shared by the rest of the band. There's also a firm sense of play operating here; how else to explain the accordion-driven cover of "Paint It Black?" The album is graced by several originals as well as an offbeat but pungently Middle-Eastern "Shalom Aleichem." And "Firn di Mekhutonim Aheym." (Oy.) A satisfyingly jazzy first offering. Rating: four stars.

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Silver, Judy / Beyond Tomorrow (Sounds Write). Another entry in the Debbie Friedman sweepstakes, a sweet-voiced folkie who alternates settings of liturgy with original songs. As the old joke goes, this is a good example of this sort of thing if you like this sort of thing. Silver uses more sophisticated instrumentation with a vaguely Middle-Eastern feel than most of the performers in this genre, but there's no escaping the easy prettiness that makes this album cloy after the first couple of bars of the first song. Diabetics avoid at all costs. Rating: 1 star, unless you are a fan of this genre, in which 4 stars but stay away from the dentist.

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Souls of Fire / Firedancing (Melting Pot). A British "world music" band that began its life playing klezmer, Souls of Fire tries to combine a whole United Nations-worth of Mediterranean and East European influences, although its roots are still largely in Jewish musics. On several cuts of this set (their first other than an EP a few years ago), they show the main problem of trying to integrate so many musical styles; there's no flow-through, so each cut sounds like a medley rather than a unified performance. And there are a couple of real clunkers, mainly "La Mambocina," which sounds like a very stiff British version of salsa. Oh, and they also record . . . you guessed it, "Firn di Mekhutonim Aheym, " in a rather lackluster arrangement that suggests the in-laws are not on very friendly terms. On the other hand, the musicianship is first-rate throughout and at their best they come off like a cross between Charles Mingus and the Paradox Trio. Rating: 3 stars.

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