Monday, April 16, 2012

CD Review: Heavy by ETHEL

Heavy is a beautiful CD. Even the package itself is quite stunning, if not misleading. For a moment I thought the oversized package held a 7" within, but instead it was a CD filled with string quartets by contemporary New York composers, performed by string quartet ETHEL.

ETHEL gives vibrant performances of each piece on this album, including music by Don Byron, John Halle, Julia Wolfe, John King, Raz Mesinai, David Lang, Kenji Bunch, and Marcelo Zarvos. You can tell that the ensemble is in its natural habitat here.

My favorite performance here is of John King's No Nickel Blues. It is so easy for classical ensembles playing bluesy music to sound endlessly square. ETHEL doesn't fall into that trap, thankfully, and they even make it swing.

Don Byron's Four Thoughts on Marvin Gaye is like Marvin Gaye seen through the filter of early Ruth Crawford Seeger. Julia Wolfe's Early That Summer shoots out of the gate with the bombast I often associate with her music. Many people will recognize David Lang's Wed from his recent youTube competition, which had pianists from all over the world posting themselves playing the piano version of the piece. While hearing Raz Mesinai's La Citadelle, I imagined it as the soundtrack to a Flash animated remount of Knight Rider. In String Circle No. 1, composer Kenji Bunch sits in and jams with through group. John Halle's Spheres and Marcelo Zarvos' Rounds almost come off as opposite sides of a post-minimal coin.

All in all, Heavy a very exciting CD, full of exuberant performances of New York music by "America’s premier postclassical string quartet."

Heavy will be released on April 24 by Innova Records. In the meantime, you can stream it on ETHEL's website.

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