by Maggie Molloy
The 442s are not your average string quartet. Though the group gets its name from the standard orchestral tuning of 442 Hz, they certainly do not confine themselves to the classical music tradition.
The band was formed in 2012 by two classically-trained musicians from the St. Louis Symphony and two talented jazz musicians from the Erin Bode Group. Together, the musicians have cultivated an acoustic instrumental quartet which offers its listeners an eclectic mix of classical, jazz, rock, world, and folk music genres.
The quartet is composed of violinist Shawn Weil, cellist Bjorn Ranheim, double bassist Sydney Rodway, and composer, keyboardist, and guitarist Adam Maness. This past May, the group released their self-titled debut album.
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Aside from the extraordinary musicianship of each member, the most striking element of The 442s debut album is its musical diversity. The group transitions flawlessly from rhythmic, percussive soundscapes to gentle, flowing melodies to lively jazz piano solos and everything in between. The group also experiments with improvisation, whistle solos, group vocals, and much more.
The composer behind The 442s unique sound is their pianist and guitarist Adam Maness, who can also be heard playing accordion, melodica, and glockenspiel on various tracks. Though Maness is responsible for writing most of the music, all of the musicians in the group collaborate and improvise to create a cohesive group sound.
“I’ve tried to write music without any restraints of specific genres or forms. Whether that involves the symphonic members of the group singing and improvising on the spot, or crafting through-composed passages for the jazz members of the group, I try to compose this music not simply for the notes on the page, but for the particular strengths of each member of the ensemble,” Maness said.
The diversity of sounds cultivated throughout the album allows the listener to travel through a variety of musical landscapes. In fact, the album even comes with a fold-out map and compass created by James Walker of the St. Louis design studio Husbandmen.
“The map is the imaginary world of our album,” Maness said. “Each location is a song, and each has a corresponding image.”
The album’s opening track, “Shibuya,” takes the listener through the hustle and bustle of a Tokyo neighborhood. The track begins with a rhythm-driven texture which later gives way to a flowing violin melody. Each string player weaves in and out of the musical forefront like people weaving across the busy Shibuya city streets.
The album then travels through a variety of musical ideas. “The Caves and the Cold,” for instance, experiments with a percussive sound and group vocals, giving it a folk feel.
“Our love of folk and pop certainly comes out more in the vocal songs,” Maness noted.
“Heston’s” harnesses a soft, gentle sound with rich, flowing melodies, and “The One” pairs a sparser musical texture with beautiful vocals by jazz singer Erin Bode.
“Irish is Reel” opens with a lively Irish folk melody on piano, which is then taken over by the strings and transformed throughout the tune. “Chime” showcases Rodway’s jazz bass chops, while “Hondo’s” features a groovy jazz piano solo by Maness.
“We’re a band made of two classical musicians and two jazz musicians, and we’ve tried to write songs that feature the skills of both of those disciplines,” Maness said.
“Multitude,” the album’s final track, begins with a rhythm-driven, percussive texture which is later layered with soaring violin and cello melodies. The piece transitions back and forth between rhythmic textures and more nebulous, flowing resonances before ending together in perfect unison.
It is a true testament to the musicianship of The 442s that they are able to travel through so many different genres and musical ideas in just under one hour. Check out their new album and join them on their musical journey!