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Tag: Susi Evans clarinet

She’Koyokh’s Wild Goats & Unmarried Women Runs Wild

Wild, polyglot eight-piece British band She’Koyokh blast through music from across the global Jewish diaspora with the same fiery intensity they bring to feral old folk songs from the Balkans. Fronted by haunting Kurdish-Turkish chanteuse Cigdem Aslan – who recently earned a rave review here for her otherworldly solo album, Mortissa, a collection of Turkish and Greek rembetiko anthems – the band also includes members from the US, UK, Greece and Serbia. They may play big European concert halls now, but they got their start busking, and that jamband energy still resonates throughout their latest album Wild Goats & Unmarried Women, just out from World Music Network and streaming at their album page.

Too many recordings of folk music are overproduced and sterile; others drown the melodies in elaborate arrangements, or add schlocky pop elements like synths and drum machines. She’Koyokh are all about big crescendos and blistering solos. Mandolinist Ben Samuels tremolo-picks for a suspensefully flurrying sound like a balalaika. Clarinetist Susi Evans rips through lightning-fast chromatic runs with a stiletto precision alongside Zivorad Nikoli’s equally adrenalizing accordion, Meg-Rosaleen Hamilton’s sharp-fanged violin and Matt Bacon’s similarly incisive, Djangoesque guitar. Nimble bassist Paul Tkachenko doubles on tuba, and percussionist Vasilis Sarikis lays down a snaky, slinky beat utilizing a large collection of Balkan and Middle Eastern hand drums.

The album’s title track is a Turkish billy goat dance – you can guess what that’s about. It’s arguably the most exciting song here, Aslan and the band winding their way through a firestorm of microtones up to a hard-hitting, chromatically-fueled chorus. They take Esmera Min with its darkly catchy South Serbian inflections and give it a sly cumbia groove. Then a trio of tunes that give a shout out to – A) legendary pre-WWII Soviet song-gatherer Moishe Beregovsky, B) Hungarian country shtetls and C) klezmer clarinet legend Naftule Brandwein – serves as a launching pad for high-voltage solos from guitar and clarinet.

Bacon’s icepick, Djangoesque precision fuels the Moldavian dance Hora del Munte. The band scampers tightly together through the traditional Romanian Romany shuffle Tiganeasca De La Pogoanele and then turns the clarinet and guitar loose on the flamenco-tinged diptych Poco Le Das La Mi Consuegra/ Scottishe ‘Saint Julien,’ a tale of warring Sephardic mothers-in-law. Bacon choose his spots and then Evans ramps up the suspense on the swaying Greek overnight-ferry theme Argitikos Kalamatianos. They keep the flame burning low on the expansively jazzy Greek lament Selanik Turkusu. a groom pleading for more time with his cholera-stricken fiancee.

You wait for the blithely trilling Bulgarian dance Kopano Horo to go creepy and chromatic, and the waiting pays off – then it gets all happy and bouncy again. The band does the same thing, but really makes you wait for the payoff, with the Serbian tune Jasenièko Kolo/Miloševka Kolo. An ancient Bosian love song, Moj Dilbere gets a bittersweet treatment, a deliciously shivery accordion solo and an angst-fueled coda from Aslan as she takes it up and out.

Der Filsof /Flatbush Waltz pairs a satirical inside joke about warring rabbis in the Hasidic community with a sad, lushly pensive theme. The long medley Svatbarska Rachenitsa/Yavuz Geliyor & La Comida La Mañana vamps and burns through Bulgaria, Turkey and Spain over a clattering, boomy groove, through searing violin and clarinet solos – it seems designed as a big crowd-pleaser. The Greek Amarantos/Tsamikos is a showcase for the band’s moody side, Evans and Aslan leading the way. There’s also Limonchiki, popularized by Soviet crooner Leonid Utyosov in the 1930s, a distinctly Russian take on Cab Calloway-style hi-de-ho noir. You like esoterica? Adrenaline? This one’s for you.

Cigdem Aslan Revisits the 1920s Aegean Underground with a Riveting Intensity

Istanbul-born singer Cigdem Aslan’s album Mortissa is a shout-out to the strong women and freedom fighters in Turkey and Greece in the 1920s and 30s, when the music of the underground, rembetiko, was banned on both sides for being too Arabic. If that doesn’t grab you, nothing will. It’s haunting, plaintive, rivetingly emotional stuff, with echoes of both klezmer and Egyptian melodies along with its obvious Greek and Turkish roots. This so-called “Anatolian blues,” with its bitter ironies and double meanings, was the stoner soundtrack to the revolutionary underworld that rose up in Smyrna, and Istanbul, and port cities on the Aegean almost a century ago. Aslan is an aptly cosmopolitan choice to revisit these songs, a woman of Kurdish descent who’s made a name for herself in the UK singing klezmer music from across the Jewish diaspora. To paraphrase Edward Said: orientalism, the ultimate source of all good musical things.

Aslan sings in both Greek and Turkish, although you don’t have to speak either to enjoy this music, and Aslan’s delivery often transcends any linguistic limitations: it’s not hard to figure out where the songs are coming from. Is the haunting, dirgelike Ferece (Veil) about a funeral, or a wedding? Actually, neither. It’s sung from the point of view of a Muslim woman who wants to tear off her oppressive burqa, Nikos Angousis-Doitsidis‘ searing clarinet lines mirroring the vocals‘ simmering rage. Likewise, Bir Allah (One God), Aslan’s imploring melismatics mingling with Pavlos Carvalho’s biting bouzouki. Aslan shifts in a split second from jaunty to pensive, especially on the shapeshifting To Dervisaki (Little Dervish), with its fiery succession of solos from the bouzouki to Makis Baklatzis’s violin to the clarinet. Aslan does the same on the album’s towering, angst-ridden final cut, S’agapo (I Love You), Nikolaos Baimpas’ kanun rippling over the gusty swells of the orchestra.

Aslan sings with a nonchalantly crystalline tone over a bouncy minor-key pulse on Aman Katerina Mou (Oh My Katerina), then she veers between coy and inquisitive on the rhythmically tricky, chromatically edgy Vale Me Stin Agalia Sou (Take Me In Your Arms). Pane Gia To Praso (Going Out For Leeks – 1920s Greek slang for hashish) spirals downward on the wings of some of the album’s most gorgeous bouzouki riffage beneath Aslan’s eerily glimmering microtones. The catchy Trava Vre Manga Kai Alani (Go Away, Manga) has echoes of klezmer,while the stark bouzouki and vocal lines added a surreal, crepuscular creepinesss to Nenni (Lullaby). There’s also a slinky levantine ensemble piece, a lush pastorale, a bitterly anthemic barroom scenario where Aslan tells her suitors to take a hike, and the enigmatic Girl from Usak, sort of a Turkish circus rock shuffle with a kanun solo that might be the album’s most exhilarating moment.  Where can you hear this masterpiece online? It’s not at Grooveshark or Bandcamp but it is on Spotify, and there are a couple of tracks up at Asphalt Tango Records’ Soundcloud page.