ALBUM REVIEW: Unbound by the Jasper String Quartet

by Maggie Molloy

Photo by Dario Acosta.

Over the course of their decade-long career, the Jasper String Quartet has become pretty familiar with the famous quartets of historic masters like Haydn, Beethoven, and even Bartók—so when it came time to record a new album, they decided to look for new musical inspiration a little closer to home.

Unbound is a collection of 21st century works that burst through the boundaries of traditional Western musical styles and forms. The Jaspers—comprised of violinists J Freivogel and Sae Chonabayashi, violist Sam Quintal, and cellist Rachel Henderson Freivogel—explore the furthest reaches of the string quartet repertoire with new works by seven of today’s most dynamic composers.

Featuring compositions by Caroline Shaw, Missy Mazzoli, Annie Gosfield, Judd Greenstein, David Lang, Donnacha Dennehy, and Ted Hearne, the album unfolds as a survey of today’s spectacularly diverse and dynamic string music landscape, each piece stretching the string quartet tradition in new and inventive ways.

The album begins with Caroline Shaw’s tangy and succulent “Valencia,” the video for which we premiered just last week on Second Inversion. The Jaspers bring precision and playfulness to Shaw’s billowing harmonics and bold bow strokes, evoking the brilliant colors and juicy texture of the fresh, flavorful fruit.

Missy Mazzoli’s contribution to the album, by contrast, is a bit more narrative-driven. “Death Valley Junction” is inspired by a small American town of the same name, where a woman named Marta Becket resurrected a crumbling opera house in the late 1960s and went on to perform weekly one-woman shows there for over 40 years. An airy, sparse, desert-inspired soundscape gradually gives way to a wild and exuberant dance, evoking Becket’s colorful imagination and unshakable optimism.

It’s followed by Annie Gosfield’s “The Blue Horse Walks on the Horizon,” a piece she wrote specifically for the Jaspers. Inspired by the surreal radio broadcasts and codes used by European resistance groups during World War II, the piece unfolds through shifting, repetitive figures that evoke the abstract coded messages.

Group dynamics are the key theme behind Judd Greenstein’s contribution to the album. “Four on the Floor” is an energetic, fast-paced work which explores different instrument pairings working with and against one another in constantly changing teams.

Photo by Dario Acosta.

David Lang’s “almost all the time” explores a different type of evolution. The piece begins with a simple cell of a musical idea—what he calls “a little 10 note strand of musical DNA”—but across 18 minutes expands and evolves into a beautiful genetic mutation, each detail carefully crafted under the Jaspers’ fingers.

Donnacha Dennehy’s “Pushpulling” is more elastic in its movements. Frenetic bow strokes speed ever-forward, but are slowly and patiently pulled back to silence each time—pushing and pulling the listener along for the ride.

The album closes with Ted Hearne’s circular “Excerpts from the middle of something,” the first movement of his Law of Mosaics. Unusual in its form, the piece consists of a climactic build-up that, instead of resolving, is simply repeated and revised several times. And yet, each time it is convincing: the Jaspers play each rendition with the explosive energy and enthusiasm of a grand finale.

It’s an exclamation point at the end of the album but also a metaphor, perhaps, for the album’s overarching theme: the string quartet repertoire did not die with Haydn or Beethoven, but is still alive and still evolving to this day.

STAFF PICKS: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts and community members share a favorite selection from this Friday’s playlist and a few other gems, too. Tune in at the indicated times below on Friday, April 29 to hear these pieces. In the meantime, you’ll hear other great new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre 24/7!

Nina Simone: Stars from Little Girl Blue (Naive Records)

71yYZp7ZVZL._SX355_

Elton John named one of his pianos after her,  Beyoncé cited her as a strong musical influence, and in 2014 cellist Sonia Wieder-Atherton released an entire album dedicated to offering Nina Simone the voice of her cello. That album is Little Girl Blue, and we’re featuring one of the pieces from said album that I admire most: “Stars.” The bare texture of “Stars” gives it a sober atmosphere, yet it is a passionate piece that keeps building up. – Rachele Hales

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 8am hour today to hear this recording.


Donnacha Dennehy: Stainless Staining from Stainless Staining; Lisa Moore, piano (Cantaloupe Music)

ca21062_hires-cover (1)

This is a busy time of year. Personally, I have lately been in the mood to just keep my head down and focus on the tasks at hand. The vacations and summer plans are all arranged, but right now, there’s work to be done. My pick for this week is music that supports such a mindset: Donnacha Dennehy’s Stainless Staining. The intricate rhythmic modulations and evolving motives here are the perfect soundtrack for taking care of business. This is not surprising, given the cinematic qualities that are present in this work; at points, this piece sounds like a film score in search of a film. The sustained intensity to which this piece builds is somewhat unexpected given its minimalistic and relatively relaxed opening, but it is ultimately quite pleasing. Also notable is the wide variety of sounds that Moore draws out of the piano; these sounds and their flow into and out of each other are truly beguiling. Have that third cup of coffee and enjoy the ride! – Seth Tompkins

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 10am hour today to hear an excerpt from this recording.


Brian Eno and Icebreaker: Stars from Apollo (Cantaloupe Music)

apollocoverdigitalhiresMusic can take you anywhere in the world—from the shores of Spain to the Steppes of Central Asia, from the romantic forests of France to the regal palaces of Russia. But music also has the power to take you far beyond this world—out into the dark mysteries and uncharted territories of the universe.

Brian Eno’s Apollo takes you to the furthest reaches of outer space through a series of ambient and atmospheric pieces performed by the 12-piece contemporary music group Icebreaker. The pieces were originally composed in the 1980s for a feature-length documentary titled For All Mankind, directed by Al Reinert. The original version of the film had no narration, and simply featured 35mm footage of the Apollo moon missions collected together and set to Eno’s music.

But honestly, you don’t have to watch the movie to appreciate the music—it stands on its own. Icebreaker brings sparkle, polish, and an inimitable sense of awe to Eno’s music, highlighting the shimmering timbres, subtle orchestration, and nebulous atmospheres of outer space. We can’t all be astronauts, but this music will definitely have you seeing stars.  – Maggie Molloy

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 5pm hour today to hear an excerpt from this recording.


Ahnnu: Perception (Leaving Records)

LA-based composer Leland “Ahnnu” Jackson artfully dissects the customs of hip-hop for their abstract emotional essence in his 2015 album, Perception. Mixing field recordings with ‘90s mixtape production methods, Ahnnu creates a dusty, distant ventilator hum, which slips into the subconscious unnoticed, rendering the album a soundscape for the id. Ahnnu bypasses the rules and logic of perception and, with surgical precision, stimulates the limbic system in a considerable number of ways – the neck-prickling, nervous, noir energy of Informant’s modulated synths to the nostalgic, reflective, vinyl textures of Anneal. Given hip-hop’s well established extroversion, Ahnnu’s ambitious project taking the art form to conceptual introversion yields highly intriguing results. – Brendan Howe

Staff & Community Picks: July 15

A weekly rundown of the music our staff and listeners are loving lately! Are you interested in contributing some thoughts on your favorite new music albums? Drop us a line!

download (20)I recently rediscovered one of my (now) favorite piano pieces. I’m not even sure where to begin, it is almost unbelievably good. Stainless Staining by Donnacha Dennehy is the kind of piece that I can just put on repeat and let its relentless, perpetual, rhythmic drive push and pull me through my day, as it becomes a kind of soundtrack to my waking life. There are actually two tracks on this jaw-dropping EP release from Lisa Moore, but I can barely tell you anything about the second track, Reservoir, because I never seem to get to it with track 1 on endless repeat. — by James Holt

 

path-of-miracles-cd-coverEvery year, more than 100,000 people make the 500-mile pilgrimage from St Jean Pied de Port, France to Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Not all of them are Catholic, and not all of them are looking for a spiritual experience; some just crave adventure. You don’t have to be religious, or even spiritual, to find adventure in Joby Talbot’s “Path of Miracles,” an hour-long piece dedicated to the famous pilgrimage. The seventeen-part harmony, set to text that’s in turns religious, historical, and poetic, is indescribably beautiful. Talbot’s piece is the choral interpretation of a month-long journey filled with excitement, doubt, revelation, fear, and triumph. – by Jill Kimball

 

Instrumental CoverIt’s just not every day that you hear a beatboxing flutist, and beyond that, one who can play circles around some of the best classically trained flutists in the world! Greg Pattillo, joined by cellist Eric Stephenson and bassist Peter Seymour are PROJECT Trio and make music so much fun by breathing, bowing, and plucking new life into classical favorites (Brahms Hungarian Dance No.5 and the Bacchanale from Samson and Delilah by Saint-Saens) and writing original tunes for their unusual trio combination, with titles on this disc such as Djangish, BRB, and 99 Mondays. – by Maggie Stapleton