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Nigel Kennedy has carved out a reputation as a loudmouth and a fantastic violin maestro, which even those with no knowledge of classical music will be familiar with. His decision to work with Polish klezmer trio Kroke might seem surprising until you learn that his wife is Polish and he spends a lot of time in Krakow, where they have a house. He's also the Artistic Director of the Polish Chamber Orchestra. Even so, Kroke already have their own virtuoso violinist, Tomasz Kukurba, so the idea of them collaborating with Kennedy might seem like over-egging the pudding. Fortunately Kukurba also plays a mean viola, and it's this and his flutes that he sticks to for most of the album's duration.
Accordionist Jerzy Bawol and double bass player provide inspired though unshowy support and Kukurba often gracefully shadows Kennedy in harmony or counterpoint, as on the exquisitely refined version of the well known Roma anthem "Ederlezi", which was featured in the film The Time Of The Gypsies. The effect is bittersweet as opposed to saccharine, which it might have become in the hands of lesser players.
Kennedy's performance as lead violinist is in no way overcooked, even on his one solo piece "Lost In Time", although the three that feature his electric instrument may prove a little testing for some.
Nevertheless, he seems to have got under the skin of the tunes, several of which long-term Kroke fans will recognise. For starters, there's the Balkan-style piece "Ajde Jano", which appeared in instrumental form on Kroke's debut. Here it's sung in Serbo-Croat by Natasha Atlas and makes for an unexpected intro. The only other vocals (which bring to mind those of French maverick Magic Malik) are Kukurba's non-verbal falsetto wails on another number recycled from the extensive Kroke songbook, "Time 4 Time". Another key track is "One Voice", a showcase for the three widely varying violin styles of Kennedy, Kukurba and guest violinist Aboud Abdoul Aal.
The balance of upbeat and reflective material is well judged and sequenced. It's also nice to hear Kroke once again playing to their strengths - that is to say the adaptation of traditional material or compositions strongly based in a tradition something they seemed to have all but abandoned on their previous and rather lacklustre outing, Ten Pieces To Save The World. Needless to say, Kennedy has already released his next project -another raid on Vivaldi's archives.