Genesis at the Crossroads:
Trio Mizan and Maxwell Street Klezmer Band Review

by Stewart Cherlin

Differences can divide or can unite. In the realm of music, unity is achievable through our differences. Genesis at the Crossroads, a Chicago-based non-profit organization promotes and organizes events featuring Jewish, Arab and Persian artists. Genesis represents a variety of disciplines including performance, visual, literary and culinary arts.

Recently, Genesis at the Crossroads and Lakeside Congregation, Highland Park, Illinois sponsored a three-day event including workshops and performances. Featured performing artist included Trio Mizan and the Maxwell Street Klezmer Band.

Trio Mizan performs classic music from Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia on traditional Middle-Eastern instruments including the oud, qanun, and percussion complimented by western instruments (guitar and piano). Vocals are in Arabic, Hebrew and Ladino. Trio Mizan feature Yoel Ben Simhon, on vocals, guitar and oud, Hicham Chami on Qanun, and Rich Jankowsky on darbuka, riqq and frame-drum. The trio's name, "Mizan" is Arabic for "balance"; the Moroccan music term means rhythm or beat.

album coverTrio Mizan's members are also virtuosic solo performers. Yoel Ben Simhon is a compelling oud player. His voice has a strong emotional edge, which intensifies the sentiment of his music. Yoel's recent CD, "Yoel Ben Simhon & Sultana Ensemble" includes original composition and setting of traditional songs and prayers. The piece, "Berber Blues" sung in Arabic tells a story of the fleetingness of life and the need for hospitality. The CD also includes Hebrew lyrics. "Forgiveness Hymns" is an example of heart-felt devotion expressed in song. Its lyrics conclude with a Moroccan Hymn: "Oh God who is majestic, Grant us forgiveness at the closing hour."

Qanun player, Hicham Chami was born in Tetuan, Morocco in 1977. He attended the National Conservatory of Music and Dance in Rabat. The qanun is a plucked zither-type instrument with twenty-six triple courses of nylon or gut and metal-wound silk strings. Mr. Chami has performed with a variety of local artist including Howard Levy, Stuart Rosenberg and Chazzan Alberto Mizrachi.

album coverMr. Chami's solo CD, "Promises: Oriental Classic Music" features the qanun. The CD includes an abundant compilation of Arab and Turkish music by 19th and 20th composers. Their compositions are set in traditional forms. The maqam, one of the forms on the CD, is equivalent in Western classical modes. Arabic music does not use the Western even-tempered system. It contains quart tones. Melody and rhythm are key components; harmony is not a part of the genre. Musicians improvise on set melodies strictly adhering to rhythmic and melodic structures.

One is impressed with the diversity of the music genre. Mr. Chami handles the complexity of his instrument with ease. His playing is effortlessness. His knowledge of the genre is extraordinary. This is a CD with worth having.

album coverMaxwell Street Klezmer, a Chicago institution includes six virtuosic performers who draw from the rich diverse variety of Jewish music that came to the American shores with our European ancestors. The band members includes Al Ehrich on string bass, Alex Koffman on violin, Don Jacobs on clarinet, Gail Mangurten on keyboard, Lori Lippitz on vocals, and Steve Weintraub, dancer leader.

Maxwell Street's ensemble playing is well balanced and tight, a product of years of playing together. "Galitzianer vs. Litvak", a tune featuring the scorching clarinet playing of Don Jacobs and cool violin responses by Alex Koffman is a battle of styles and Jewish origins. The good-natured exchanges of one-upmanship are tempered by the unique voice of each tradition. The opposition becomes a vehicle to unite diversity. A theme at the core of Genesis at the Crossroads efforts.

Genesis at the Crossroads is an apolitical non-religious organization. It provides a stage for understanding and communication through the arts. Information about Genesis at the Crossroads is available at or 773-929-0224.

Written by Stewart Cherlin, 21 Mar '04

to top of page To top of page

the KlezmerShack   Ari's home page 

to About the Jewish-music mailing list
to The Klezmer Shack main page
to Ari Davidow's home page

Thank you for visiting:
Copyright © 2004 Stewart Cherlin. All rights reserved.
This page is maintained by Ari Davidow. Send me E-mail with any comments or suggestions. All rights reserved. Last revised 31 January, 2006.