(This article originally appeared on iclassics.com, August 2003).



  New from Nigel Kennedy: East Meets East 

From moonlighting in New York jazz clubs to studying at the Juilliard School to reinventing the music of Jimi Hendrix and Frank Zappa, Nigel Kennedy has always been driven by his passion for musical diversity. Rarely has his sense of adventure been better expressed than on his latest project, East Meets East. Here the fiddler teams up with the three-piece ensemble, Kroke – based in Krakow, Poland – in a music whose roots lie in Eastern Europe and North Africa.

Kennedy now divides his time between homes in England and Krakow, so the Eastern European influence has clearly seeped into his soul. “What better place to make this album than in Kroke’s and my home town?” muses Kennedy, “Krakow is such a wonderful place.” His appointment as Artistic Director of the Polish Chamber Orchestra in September last year has also had a profound influence on his music-making. This was a role that his teacher and mentor, the late Yehudi Menuhin, once held. In his strictly classical incarnation, Kennedy has performed with numerous leading orchestras, including the Berlin Philharmonic, Philharmonia and English Chamber Orchestra, under the baton of such luminaries of the podium as Simon Rattle, André Previn and Klaus Tennstedt, but rarely has his music sounded as rich and emotional as it does on East Meets East. Audiences at his concerts have often been treated to bursts of folk and gypsy music, as have his after show jam sessions, but this is the first time Kennedy has devoted himself to exploring this music in depth on disc.

Kroke, comprised of violinist Tomasz Kukurba, accordionist Jerzy Bawol and bassist Tomasz Lato have already established themselves as pioneers in Klezmer and folk styles with a string of their own albums. The addition of Kennedy’s violin adds spectacular excitement with each of the 14 tracks offering something fresh and striking, whether it’s the electric fiddle that suddenly bursts out of the infectious dance rhythms of Time 4 Time, the hints of pastel-colored psychedelia amidst the plucked strings and accordion of the T4.2, the haunting and highly personal interpretation of the traditional Balkan gypsy song Ederlize, his sheer heart-on-the-sleeve emotion of One Voice or the high energy bonus track, Kukush.

Natacha Atlas’s voice lends warmth and spice to the compelling rhythms of the opening track, Ajde Jano, while in the extended lament of Vino, Kennedy engages in an eerie duet with Tomasz Kukurba, their twin fiddles swapping phrases and slow-dancing around each other. Kennedy’s show-stopper is a stunning unaccompanied solo called Lost in Time, where he decorates a haunting melody with tearful cadences and haunting harmonics – a composition he has already previewed to 50,000,000 American homes on US television.

East Meets East finds Kennedy reunited with producer John Stanley after more than a decade apart, though this time Stanley also shares production duties with rock-star-turned-composer Jaz Coleman, with whom Kennedy collaborated on Riders on the Storm - The Doors Concerto. It was the Stanley-Kennedy combination which gave Nigel a multi-million selling hit with his recording of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons . East Meets West is certainly daring and innovative enough to make lightning strike twice.