Shir - Ashk'Farad
Released in 2010, Shir's Ashk'Farad is the bands third album. With a reputation such as Shir's as one of the very finest, perhaps the finest, Jewish Music bands on the UK scene, you'd expect something a little bit special. And that they certainly deliver with Ashk'Farad.
Individually, Maurice Chernick, clarinet, recorder and vocals, Ivor Goldberg, guitars, bouzouki, bass, mandolin, nageni, harmonium and vocals, Piotr Jordan on violin, and acoustic bassist Steve Rose can boast implacable track records and fine strings of credits. As Shir they grow into something far greater than the sum of the individual members.
With a superb blend of principally klezmer and Sephardi material, Ashk'Farad has something to offer to just about everyone. The title gives a strong hint of this blend, being a contraction of Ashkenaz and Sefarad (the technically correct spelling of the more common Sepharad). (For non-Jewish readers, the two words are the Hebrew terms for respectively "the lands on the Rhine" and Iberia, which gave rise to two of the branches of the Jewish diaspora.) It is this mix of material - and Shir's command of it - that adds considerably to the great charm of the band and this album.
At just over an hour and five minutes, Ashk'Farad is a generous album, and there's never a dull moment. That hour-and-a-bit seems to just fly by all too quickly and you want to start all over.
The klezmer material alone would make Ashk'Farad one of the finest klezmer albums of recent years. While remaining faithful to the tradition, the treatment is nonetheless also inventive and exciting. What the Ladino song material lacks in quantity to make up an album by itself, it more than makes up for in quality. The arrangements here, while not following "authentic period style," are nonetheless sensitive to the material and work beautifully. Great care is also taken with the pronunciation of the Ladino lyrics in the Judeo-Spanish language, or Judezmo. (Ladino is the name for the body of poetry and songs in the Judeo-Spanish language, mostly going back to medieval times.) And the vocals themselves are flawlessly beautiful.
As thoroughly consistent an album as you could wish for, Ashk'Farad makes it an exercise in utter futility to pick any favourite track. Each one is easily worth the price of admission by itself. This album of music from the heart straight to the heart - as well as to the feet! - is brim full of neshoma, or soul. Ashk'Farad is completely enchanting and irresistible and just a highly enjoyable listening experience.
The sleeve notes contain the full Ladino song lyrics both in transliterated Judeo-Spanish and English, with one in transliterated Hebrew (translated from Judeo-Spanish) and English.
Shir's Ashk'Farad has to be essential in any good Jewish Music collection of just about any kind. As a superb example of contemporary interpretation of traditional Jewish music it also should find a happy place in any general world music collection. Ultimately, this is simply great music presented superbly by a great band.
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