They might have started out as the She’Koyokh Klezmer Ensemble, but there’s long been more to this UK seven-piece than straight interpretations of Yiddish folk music. With Turkish singer Çiğdem Aslan and Serbian accordeonist Živorad Nikolić amongst their line-up, it could hardly be otherwise. On this, their fourth album, there are tunes from all over the Balkans, Eastern Europe and the eastern Mediterranean.
Klezmer’s still in there too of course. The album’s title refers to Second Avenue Square Dance by US Yiddish legend Dave Tarras, a version of which opens proceedings. But from there on in it’s outwards to all points with Turkish hip-shakers, heart melting Serbian ballads, Bulgarian dance pieces, Albanian melodies.
There are a number of bands ploughing this Romani, Balkan, Eastern European, klez furrow right now, so what makes She’Koyokh stand out? It’s that most simple and obvious of things: they’re just all very, very, good musicians. Çiğdem Aslan has been fêted for her solo work more than once in these pages (and will again, I’m sure). With She’Koyokh, there’s a sense she’s letting her hair down. Violinist Meg Hamilton and clarinettist Susi Evans can play fast and tricksy and slow and soulful with equal aplomb. Guitarist Matt Bacon offers some lovely swinging licks. And where others may be content to bash this stuff out, this band employs smart arrangements and leave space for solos to bring musical light and shade.
They’ve got chutzpah too. You’d need it to take on tunes from the repertoire of greats such as Ivo Papasov and Saban Bajramović as they do here. Fortunately, they’ve got the chops to back up their guts and make them their own. The Bulgarian influences they explore here are a welcome development. Guitarist Bacon has recently picked up the kaval flute and gets to blow a solo on the Paposav tune and the band pull some on-the-money Bulgarian vocal harmonies out of the bag on Jove Malai Mome.