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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


Flying Bulgar Klezmer Band

The Klezical Tradition

David Krakauer

Shirim Klezmer Orchestra

Yiddishe Cup

other klezmer articles
on the Internet

Jewish Sounds, 12/1999
The Best of 1999
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

Davka / Judith
Evën Sh'siyah / ... through your gates, Jerusalem
Flying Bulgar Klezmer Band / Fire
Kaplan, Richard and Michael Ziegler / Tuning the Soul: Worlds of Jewish Sacred Music
Kernis, Aaron Jay, perf. by the Lark Quartet / String Quartets Nos. 1 and 2
The Klezical Tradition / Family Portrait
Krakauer, David / Klezmer, NY
Shirim / Klezmer Nutcracker
A Taste of Chanukah
The Western Wind / Taste of Eternity: A Musical Shabbat
Ruth Wieder Magan / Songs to the Invisible God
With Every Breath / The Music of Shabbat at BJ
Yiddishe Cup Klezmer Band / Yidfellas
Zohar / Keter
Jewish Stories from the Old World to the New

What an amazing year this has been for Jewish music. Greater variety and better musicianship than ever before, with music that runs the gamut from intensely spiritual to earthy and even raunchy. The records below all earned -- and I do mean earned -- five star ratings in the past twelve months. Any one of them will give you hours of joy, and most will do more.

Davka / Judith (Tzadik). A San Francisco-based trio, Davka play a heavily Eastern-inflected brand of string-oriented chamber klez. This set, their third, is a brilliant exploration of the darker colors of the musical spectrum, built around Moses Sedler's evocative cello and Daniel Hoffman's Gypsy-ish violin, with Peter Maund providing a firm percussion underpinning. This is often brooding, turbulent music, but always understated in a highly intelligent way. Davka's first two sets are out of print at the moment, but Tzadik is restoring them to the catalog soon and I, for one, can't wait. Rating: 5 stars.

Evën Sh'siyah / ... through your gates, Jerusalem (Prero Productions). Folk-punk settings of Psalms and liturgy? Sound unpromising but don't the labels scare you off. This is one of the most original and inventive recordings of explicitly Jewish music I've heard in a long time. Imaginative, energetic rock, fueled by some stinging guitar work by Ely Cooper and throbbing, propulsive bass by David Margulies (who also wrote most of the tunes). I don't expect you'll hear this in many shuls but definitely a must-buy record. Rating: 5 stars.

album cover for FIREFlying Bulgar Klezmer Band / Fire (Traditional Crossroads). I make no bones about it, FBKB is one of my favorite New Klez bands, a group that combines straight-ahead klezmer with Middle-Eastern, Latin and jazz influences adroitly. This set, their first on a new label, is a rollicking live concert with several guests, most tellingly Adrienne Cooper. Cooper is rapidly becoming one of the great world music divas -- she's not on a level with Umm Kalthoum or Amalia Rodrigues yet, but she can stand quite nicely alongside Marta Sebestyen and Kristy McColl, and that's exalted company. Her a capella reading of "Mayne Yunge Yorn" is worth the price of the album. And the Flying Bulgars are in top form as well, particularly trumpeter David Buchbinder and drummer Bucky Berger, both of whom can take you seamlessly from Bukovina to Birdland and back again in only a few measures. A terrific set and a lot of fun. Rating: 5 stars

Kaplan, Richard and Michael Ziegler / Tuning the Soul: Worlds of Jewish Sacred Music (Four Gates Music). I love this record! There have been a lot of terrific Jewish music recordings issued year, but none that I enjoy any more than I do this one. Kaplan and Ziegler have drawn on numerous sacred and folk music traditions, Jewish and otherwise, to find new or neglected settings for Jewish liturgical texts. The result is an album of haunting, moving music performed by both men and a cast of superb guest musicians. Especially recommended to those who love the sounds of Middle Eastern music, the dominant flavor in this mix. Rating: 5 stars.

Kernis, Aaron Jay, perf. by the Lark Quartet / String Quartets Nos. 1 and 2 (Arabesque). It's not hard to see why Kernis won a Pulitzer Prize for String Quartet No. 2; it's thoughtful, accessible but intelligent music that pays homage to the past in witty and often moving ways. Its immediate predecessor makes a logical pairing, complementing the jagged rhythms of No. 2 with some intricacies of its own. Kernis's voicings make the quartet sound like a much larger group, and this recording is superlative, expressively played and warmly recorded. Rating: 5 stars.

The Klezical TraditionThe Klezical Tradition / Family Portrait (TKT Productions). An unalloyed delight, from the old family photos in the booklet to the lively interpretations of old chestnuts like "Russian Sher" and "Die Goldene Khasene." Difficult to single out any one contribution on a record as good as this, but Adrianne Greenbaum's rollicking piccolo is a pungent and unexpected reminder of how many of the old klezmorim learned their trade in East European military bands. A set that manages to be traditional and fresh at the same time. Rating: 5 stars.

Krakauer, David / Klezmer, NY (Tzadik). Krakauer, of course, is anything but traditional. His newest set pays tribute to Naftule Brandwein and Sidney Bechet, which is not such a weird combination if you think about the strangely Middle-Eastern tang of Bechet's soprano sax playing. When Krakauer told me he was working on this package last year, I was curious how he would replicate Bechet's rather eerie tone; simply and wisely, he hasn't tried. His clarinet tone probably owes more to Barney Bigard, a near-contemporary of Bechet. This is a brilliant, spiky, difficult set, full of unexpected twists and turns. Not to all tastes, perhaps, but a fine recording. Rating: 5 stars.

the klezmer nutrackerShirim / Klezmer Nutcracker (Newport Classic). This record is the most fun you'll have in a long time. Shirim (which is basically Naftule's Dream with a different tuba player) klez the classics with real verve and humor. Their klezzified Nutcracker Suite is fit to stand alongside Ellington's delightful jazz rendition, and their versions of Chopin and Mahler have to be heard to be believed. Not a novelty record, really serious house-rocking klezmer by guys who can flat-out play. Rating: 5 stars.

A Taste of Chanukah (Rounder). A splendid concert recording that runs the gamut of Chanukah music, from a wildly enthusiastic Hasidic "Al Hanisim" to an old Abe Ellstein swing number, "The Miracle of Chanukah," through a rousing gospel "Not By Might" and an eerie quasi-Gregorian a capella "Siete Ijos Tiene Hanna." Theodore Bikel and Hankus Netsky serve as the backbone that holds this disparate program together, with musicians from the New England Conservatory under Netsky's direction propelling it. The mariachi version of "Ocho Kandelikas" is a bit much, but this is a delightful recording overall. There's even a recipe for latkes. Rating: 5 stars.

The Western Wind / Taste of Eternity: A Musical Shabbat (Western Wind) Speaking of all-star casts, this one is a beauty, a stunning a capella choral recording that features not only the always-dependable Western Wind but also guests like Alberto Mizrahi, Benjie Ellen Schiller and conductor Matthew Lazar (of the Zamir Chorale). A lively introduction to a wide range of Jewish musical traditions, this first volume of Shabbat music includes everything from the Lewandowski "L'cha Dodi" to a Schubert setting of "Tov L'Hodot," as well as Shabbat table songs from Sephardic, Judeo-Spanish and Hasidic sources. Needless to say, the singing is unformly superb. Rating: 5 stars.

Ruth Wieder Magan / Songs to the Invisible God (Sounds True). This is quite simply one of the most remarkable albums of Jewish music I have ever heard. Wieder Magan has a haunting voice somewhere between mezzo and contralto; on this recording she sings a cappella versions of folk and cantorial settings of various sacred texts in a medieval monastery in Ein Kerem. The result is haunting, moving, sometimes scary. If you have been looking for a Jewish recording that would be the equivalent of the various "Chant" sets that have been all the rage for the past couple of years, this is it. The closest to a mystical experience I have had listening to music since the first time I heard Coltrane's "A Love Supreme" or the choral movement of Beethoven's Ninth. Astonishing. Rating: 5 stars.

With Every Breath / The Music of Shabbat at BJ (JAM). B'nai Jeshurun, on Manhattan's Upper West Side, has always been a special congregation. And this recording of the music they daven on Shabbat is a special record. I can't imagine another synagogue that could call upon the collection of musical talent on display here -- Anthony Coleman, Marc Ribot, Basya Schechter, Erik Friedander -- or get a CD of its liturgical music released by the folks at the Knit. A low-key, contemplative record in which the high-powered talent submerges itself into a harmonious whole, subordinated to the overall atmosphere of hushed intensity. Hauntingly sung by BJ's cantor, Ari Priven and its two rabbis, Marcelo Bronstein and J. Rolando Matalon, this is anything but a vanity production. An excellent recording by any standards. Rating: 5 stars.

Yiddishe Cup Klezmer Band / Yidfellas (Self-distributed). This is a great party album -- raucous, funny, delightfully played. There's even a Mickey Katz song that I haven't heard. The material is imaginative in a straight klezmer vein. Excellent musicianship from a bunch of guys from Cleveland Heights who sound like they're having a very good time. (To order -- and by all means do -- phone 216-932-3586 or e-mail Yiddishe Cup). Rating: 5 stars.

zoharZohar / Keter (JAM). Wow! Zohar is Uri Caine's Jewish project (as opposed to his hard-bop piano gigs), spearheaded by his incredibly fluent keyboard work and the vocal gymnastics of Sephardi cantor Aaron Bensoussan, aided immeasurably by percussionist Gilad, among others. A seamless amalgam of Middle-Eastern and Sephardic musics with post-bop jazz and, quite simply, one of the most exciting records I have heard all year. From a flamenco-ish "Eyshet Chayil" to a salsa-rhythmed ode to the Temple, this is brilliant stuff. Caine's powerful two-handed attack echoes McCoy Tyner and Herbie Hancock, but the results are all his own. A real rarity, a "world music" fusion that preserves the aesthetic integrity of all its parts and that isn't soporific. Rating: 5 stars.

And a special package: Jewish Stories from the Old World to the New (KCRW-FM). This is a mammoth undertaking, a radio series done for a West Coast public radio station that includes splendid readings of 36 short stories from a wide range of Jewish writers. The selection is heavy on Yiddish masters I.B. Singer (4 selections) and Sholom Aleichem (5 selections), Isaac Babel (3 selections) and Ida Fink (3 selections), but there is a nicely chosen spread of contemporary American authors as well, with the obligatory Bellow, Malamud and Philip Roth but also such unexpected inclusions as Leslea Newman, Allegra Goodman and Pearl Abraham. There doesn't appear to be any particular theme, but the readings, by the likes of Ed Asner, Theodore Bikel, Elliot Gould and the series host Leonard Nimoy, are uniformly delightful. Probably too adult for a bar mitzvah present, but this huge set (18 CDs, 12 casettes) would make a wonderful gift for somebody who really appreciates literature, Jewish or otherwise. The set can be purchased from KCRW-FM by phone at 1-800-292-3855 or from their website, Rating: 5 stars.

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Contents copyright © 1999 by George Robinson. Used with permission. All rights reserved. Page last revised 11 June, 2007.