AND ALL THAT JAZZ • Oregon Qrt; Diane Monroe (vn) • KOCH 7672 (67:16)
GLINSKY Canandaigua Quartet. LEE Morango . . . almost a tango. STEINHARDT Figment. BAKER Sonata for Jazz Violin and String Quartet. GEARHART Geigezoid
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Subtitled “Jazz and Rock Influences in the contemporary American String Quartet,” this adventurous disc describes a most enjoyable journey through territory that spans mimimalism as well as the promised jazz and rock. The recording is very close, perhaps to emphasize the upfront and personal nature of the experience, making the sound almost preternaturally bright.
In its activities, the Oregon Quartet orients itself towards new music, and it shows in the way it sounds so much at home in these five works. Albert Glinsky wrote the Canandaigua Quartet in 1996, including folk elements in the already heady jazz and rock mix while taking Bartók as a stylistic background basis. Minimalism features in the energetic first and third movements (the finale is a furious dance), framing a beautiful, morose Nocturne that rises in intensity as it progresses. The players prove to be as effective in reflective music as in the brightly colored, driven movements.
Morango was written for the Kronos Quartet. The composer, Thomas Oboe Lee, painstakingly notates every jazz inflection so that classically trained interpreters have an entrance point to this music. Over an ostinato cello, the remaining instrumentalists spin their lines. The seven-minute work is astonishingly laid back; it is no surprise to learn that it was an instant hit.
Victor Steinhardt’s Figment is contrastingly restless. Steinhart is an experienced composer (whose works include titles such as Ein Heldenboogie). Interestingly, Steinhardt has the two violinists of the Oregon Quartet change to viola, so the work is pervaded by the warmth of that instrument. David Baker also changes the instrumentation, adding a solo jazz violin to the traditional quartet lineup for his Sonata. Baker keeps to traditional notation for the quartet, while allowing the solo jazz violinist a greater measure of improvisation. The first movement features inviting harmonies of great warmth; the second, entitled Song/Blues, has a lovely swing while pizzicato strumming features in the ensuing Calypso. A long cadenza in the finale for the soloist works well, despite the close and dry soundstage it is allocated.
Geigezoid, by Fritz Gearhart, returns to the world of the opening piece. The string quartet scoring is only the latest version for a work that has seen instrumentations of three violins and coffee can, then a larger version that included rhythm section and keyboard. Again, the solo violin has improvised elements while the other parts are fully notated. Can I hear some hillbilly influence here? The final laugh of delight from the quartet is entirely understandable.
Definitely a different take on the string-quartet medium. Well worth investigating.