Klezmer Idol - You decide who wins

July 5, 2007

Listen to klezmer music files here and vote in The JC's Klezmer Idol competition. We have been working with 10 of the best British klezmer bands, and want you to help choose which one will perform at KlezFest in the Park in London next month. To listen, click on the links below and tell us your favourite.

Ten groups are vying for the title of Britain's best klezmer band, and JC readers are invited to pick the winner. Listen to them here and vote for your favourite.

NOTE: Voting for Kelzmer Idol has now closed. 

The UK klezmer music scene has never been more lively, with bands all over the country performing their interpretations of traditional Jewish folk music.

We have nominated 10 of the freshest klezmer groups around. Read about them below and listen to the MP3 files attached and cast your vote at the foot of the page.

Simply enter the number of the band (numerals only) in the subject field of the email and send it to us along with any comments you'd like to add. Of course feel free to add your name as we'll be publishing a selection here shortly.

The winning band will play at Jewish Music Institute's KlezFest in the Park in Hyde Park, London, on August 12.

1. Kosmos

KOSMOS is a young, classically trained, all-female string ensemble made up of two violinists - Harriet Mackenzie and Meg Hamilton - and cellist Laura Anstee. Billed as a "world music trio", they are inspired by Jewish, Balkan, Russian, and Argentinian

traditional music. They specialise in new arrangements and improvisations with other performers from around the world. They made their debut at the Hydra Rebetika Festival in Greece in 2005. Since then, Kosmos has played around Europe and at London venues including the Royal Albert Hall. Future concert highlights include the Leeds International Concert Season. A new album, Mazi Mazi, is due to be released this month.

2. Klezmer Gourmet

Klezmer Gourmet is a collaboration between clarinetist Ros Hawley and violinist Michael Kahan. The two musicians first met when they were students, but started working together over 10 years later after meeting again at a music workshop. There they discovered they both shared a love of Klezmer, so, in 2003, formed Shna'im Lecha'im (shna'im meaning "two"; lecha'im meaning "to life"). However, they found that people could not pronounce the name, so they came up with Klezmer Gourmet instead.

Playing as a klezmer duo with just violin and clarinet, traditionally both lead instruments, is a huge challenge. It requires constant reappraisal of the roles of the instruments and continually pushes the musicians to their limits. The duo perform in the UK and Europe, run regular klezmer workshops and give talks on their music.

3. Klezmer KollectiV

The Klezmer KollectiV, all past or present students at the University of Birmingham, features Adam Cross on clarinet, violinist Fenner Curtis, Steven Moult and Rob Best on trumpets, trombonist Gareth Thompson, Xavier Riley and Dave Guinane on guitars, and Théo Dorges on bass.

The KollectiV formed at the beginning of 2007 as a way of consolidating their common interest in klezmer and gypsy music. Their distinctive sound borrows heavily from the "hotclub" jazz style of Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli while ultimately aiming for the same energy and excitement found in recordings of klezmer legend Naftule Brandwein.

KollectiV have experimented with fusion styles influenced by top German DJ Shantel. They do not shy away from traditional klezmer, though - the two tracks entered in Klezmer Idol were recorded live at a Birmingham University concert and illustrate this more conventional approach.

4. Matzos

Brighton's Matzos play, as they say, "kicking klezmer - wild, soulful eastern European melodies, infused with Latin, Arabic and Celtic grooves". The Matzos focus primarily on the upbeat, dance-music side of klezmer, priding themselves on a light-hearted and fun style. Fans of their music are particularly keen on the band's ability to fill a dancefloor and put smiles on faces. The line-up of this good-time ensemble is Nigel Fingers on accordion, Peter Deadman on violin, drummer and percussionist Dave Lightning Lacey, Mark Pointing on guitar and the mysterious "Mr Smith" on double bass.

5. Moishe's Bagel

"Rip-roaring, foot-stomping, jazz-inflected klezmer and Balkan music from some of Scotland's finest musicians" - that is what this five-man outfit promises. Formed in Edinburgh in 2003, Moishe's Bagel - featuring Greg Lawson on violin and Phil Alexander on piano - are "not too concerned with authenticity (there are enough people doing that already), we let the interaction of our individual musical personalities create our style. Our sound mixes klezmer, folk dance, jazz, eastern percussion and more, topped off with dazzling technique and classical rigour".

Over the last two years, the band has toured Britain, Ireland and Eastern Europe, including a sell-out show the Edinburgh Jazz Festival. Their second album, Salt, has just been released. The critics seem to like the band's work - "expressive and raunchy" was the view of The Guardian.

6. She'Koyokh Klezmer Ensemble

She'Koyokh are a group of young London-based musicians who make their living performing at weddings and barmitzvahs. The eight-piece band formed six years ago after attending the Jewish Music Institute's annual Klezfest. They have played at Glastonbury, appeared in the ITV drama series Fat Friends in 2004 and played at their first celebrity wedding last year for Little Britain star Matt Lucas.

They say they are "dedicated to performing Eastern European folk music, employing ornaments, phrasing and rhythms specific to a variety of national folk styles". Their studio album, Sandanski's Chicken, is not available in the shops or on the internet, but is a big seller in London's street markets.

7. Shir

Shir are an acoustic quartet from London playing klezmer and other types of Jewish music. Formed in 1997 by Maurice Chernick, the band has followed the path of true klezmorim, playing at weddings and barmitzvahs all over the UK. Shir have also performed gigs at Limmud, and concert halls and synagogues around the country. This summer they will perform at the Santander International Music Festival in Spain.

The band has recorded two albums - From The Heart and Israeli Songs. It is currently working on a third release. Shir are Maurice Chernick (clarinet, vocals), Ivor Goldberg (guitar, vocals), Piotr Jordan (violin, viola) and Steve Rose (bass).

8. K-Groove

Clarinet/sax/flute player Stewart Curtis formed K-Groove in the mid-1990s. The band has always been on the cutting edge, fusing klezmer with other styles of music, particularly jazz. Curtis has a jazz background, but has also done pop, working with Nik Kershaw, Tracey Ullman, and ex-Sex Pistol Glen Matlock in the 1980s, and West End shows in the 1990s.

New York band The Klezmatics are a major influence, and K-Groove's blending of Chasidic and Israeli melodies with modern dance grooves comes with a large slice of humour. Two albums have been released so far - Too Loud for Dinner and Smoked Salmon Salsa - with a third, Brazilian Bop Bagel, to be recorded this summer. The band - the line-up includes Rob Terry on keyboards, Brad Lang on basses, Hans Ferrao on drums and Paul Jayasinha on trumpet - is touring Devon and Cornwall this month.

9. The Solomon Sisters

Penelope and Madeline Solomon front a changing line-up of musicians to perform melodies and harmonies from the golden age of New York's Yiddish Theatre.

The sisters provide strong vocals, with Madeline also performing on flute. The band has played at some of London's most prestigious venues including the Hackney Empire, Soho Theatre and Royal Festival Hall. Their new show will be unveiled at the Edinburgh Festival (Pleasance Dome, August 4 - 27), and will feature character comedy from Penelope.

10. Beskydy

Beskydy take their name from the mountain range which runs through the former Czechoslovakia. The five-strong group play "passionate renderings of traditional melodies fused with contemporary musical sensibilities, specialising in music from the eastern European Yiddish tradition and Chalutzik music from Israel". The group displays exceptional acoustic ability. No samples or DJs here, just well-crafted musicianship. Voice, strings, clarinet, percussion and accordion define the Beskydy sound.

Klezmer Idol is run jointly with the Jewish Music Institute. If you enjoy klezmer, find out more about this summer's KlezFest activities from August 12-17 in London (tel: 020 8909 2445 or see jmi.org.uk for details). Highlights include music and singing lessons with top international klezmer talent, plus the Ot Azoy! Yiddish crash course. For more details click here.

Last updated: 3:08pm, September 29 2008