T.E.C.K. String Quartet T.E.C.K. String Quartet (CF 089)
Carlos Zíngaro/Dominique Regef/Wilbert De Joode String Trio Spectrum (CF 110)
ZPF Quartet – ZPF Quartet Ulrichsberg München Musik Bruce’s Fingers BF 67
Three plus one times two or two plus one times one. These may seem like ambiguous mathematical formulae, but they’re actually the personnel make-up of these exceptional string-informed CDs. The “one” here, is Portuguese violinist Carlos Zingaro. His associates include three different bassists: American Ken Filiano (on T.E.C.K.), Englishman Simon H Fell (on Ulrichsberg) and on Spectrum, Wilbert De Joode from the Netherlands; two different cellists: London-based Marcio Mattos (on Ulrichsberg) and New York’s Tomas Ulrich (on T.E.C.K.); plus odd-ball instruments – for string groups – of drums (London’s Mark Sanders on Ulrichsberg); acoustic guitar (New York’s Elliott Sharp on Spectrum); and hurdy-gurdy (France’s Dominique Regef on Spectrum). Divorced from the conventions of even modern chamber-music ensembles, the three CDs realize a variety of propositions, Each confirms that sophisticated, string compositions are still being crafted – even if the genesis involves instant composition; that profound string-oriented chamber pieces don’t have to be limited to the standard quartet instrumentation that has remained unchanged since the 18th century: first and second violin, viola, and cello; and that Zingaro’s inventiveness is unfazed by numerous situations. The Lisbon-based fiddler, who has had lengthy or briefer associations with fellow sound explorers such as French bassist Joëlle Léandre and American composer Richard Teitelbaum plus developed scores for theatre, dance and film projects, adapts without strain to the presence of unconventional chamber music instruments. Of course the percussive asides from Sanders are rather individual themselves, considering that the drummer usually makes a point finding a place for himself within other advanced settings, such as in saxophonist Evan Parker’s bands. Furthermore, on Ulrichsberg, the other three players use extended techniques and electronics to expose and alter the tessitura of the strings, exposing partials and overtones as well as the expected timbres and dynamics. That frequently means that wood block pops, resonating configurations of bells and gongs plus cymbal clattering and the gentle patting of stretched skin tops replaces steady beat patterns on the percussionist’s part. This dovetails harmonically with the others’ output which includes angled spiccato from Zingaro; sul ponticello lines from Mattos – whose background includes work with dance companies and electronic ensembles – and low-pitched slaps and cumulative adagio sweeps from Fell, who has also composed notated works and is a member of the London Improvisers Orchestra. The resulting striated polytones and abrasive string action provide intermittent thematic alteration to the sometimes chiaroscuro interface. Eventually though, as the strings’ timbres veer towards higher pitches and become more fragmented, the bassist’s pedal-point stopping leads to a harmonic convergence of four-way, multi-part affiliation. Similar bonding strategies appear from the different cast on T.E.C.K., although the non-chamber quartet instruments are played by Sharp, a guitarist with extensive immersion in contemporary New music as well as blues and jazz; plus bassist Filiano, who not only plays in improvising groups with Zingaro and Portuguese reedist Rodrigo Amado but is bassist of choice for a number of American jazz men. Additionally, cellist Ulrich, the other string-slinger, holds his own in bands including the likes of Léandre and Zingaro. T.E.C.K.’s nine selections provide additional wave form scope for everyone, especially the violinist, whose sounds often take on the trilling character of woodwinds. For his part Sharp’s protracted bottleneck-like rasps and chromatic rasgueado prove more rhythmic than anything Sanders projected on the preceding CD, while the larger stringed instruments pile on sul tasto strokes, thick and striated pitch-slides and tough, focused passing chords. The results range from discordant double-and-triple-stopping to a striated intermezzo of grinding oscillations, colored by splintered clinks and pinched, fortissimo runs. When the four simultaneously decide to investigate the pizzicato mode, the resulting mash-up metaphorically at least suggests the sounds those swollen, 100-instrument balalaika or mandolin philharmonics of the late 19th or early 20th Century made. However the harsh resolution, broken octaves, down-stroked frail and snapped ricochets are definitely post-modern and 21st Century. Highly rhythmic and rife with fiery cries that are equally POMO are the interludes from Regef’s hurdy-gurdy on Spectrum. Still when the chordophone instrument isn’t producing peeping spetrofluctuation as if Regef was playing a reed, or sounding organ-grinder-like tremolo drones, the hurdy-gurdy’s history as a vertical viola is evident. Regef, who has used the hurdy-gurdy to accompany singers as well as improvise with saxophonist Michel Doneda among others, impressively – and singularly – adapts the ratcheting recoils of his medieval-styled cranked instrument to modern times. Here the hurdy-gurdy’s harsh whirring both contrasts and complements Zingaro’s sometimes sweetly legato pulses, while De Joode – who imperturbably plays with everyone from pianist Michiel Braam to saxophonist Ab Baars – merely digs into his instrument’s thick tones to keep the other two on an even keel. Regef’s almost oonomatopoeic impulses frequently swell to become both intense and opaque, which leads the others to create antipodal thumps and strokes. With the hurdy-gurdy squeezes as pressured as they are buzzing, new strategies emerge. At one point Zingaro triple-stops a protracted pressured line that is as dense and staccato as Regef’s output, while De Joode thumps and walks his bass. These basso chords echo long enough so that they adhere to the cumulative sounds from the others. Later, as constant chordophone drones reverberate on hard surface, creating a blurry, neo-primitive electro-acoustic texture, the response from the fiddler is lyrical and gently pitched to break up the nearly ceaseless continuum. Then the bassist responds with plucked jazz inflections including finger-tip taps and harmonically advanced bent notes. At the climax the hurdy gurdy’s reverberating overtones first resemble electronically-triggered oscillations, then dissolve into familiar organ-grinder tones, and are finally subsumed by the harmonic union of the real strings. Whether modern chamber music or Zingaro’s advances are your chief interest, there is much to impress and edify listeners on these discs.