Klezmer, the music of the Ashkenazic Jews of Central Europe, really grew and developed in the United States, where, at the beginning of the 20th century, it flowered into something lovely, well beyond its village origins. After passing out of fashion, it returned to some musical vogue in the '80s. Since then, klezmer bands have sprung up around the U.S. and, indeed, all over Europe. Composer and violinist Yale Strom has attempted to capture the many faces of klezmer on Klezmer Cafe Jew Zoo, and in part he succeeds. Whether it's on "Birobidzhan," with its familiar frantic pace (there were many similarities between klezmer and Gypsy music), or "Horo Din Caval," led by some lovely guitar picking, or even the attempt at soul with "Ten Plagues": Strom refuses to let the genre be shackled by some stereotype of klezmer. And that's all well and good. It can produce something of great beauty, like "Shakhres," which uses just guitar and cello. The only problem is that, for the most part, these pieces lack any distinctive personality. The singing is adequate, the musicians are good, but for the most part the album lacks any distinctive stamp, and there's little fire to anything. And that's a shame, because there are plenty of possibilities here.
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AllMusic Review by Chris Nickson