Susanne Paul’s Move String Quartet

Short Stories
JazzHaus Musik JHM 253 CD

Violet Spin

Spin

Unit Records UTR 4829

Turning an imaginative concept into a viable musical approach is difficult. And it’s especially hard when dealing with such a conventional form as variants on the string quartet. Additionally the implementation becomes that much more problematic when rather than devising a traditional foursome, playing so-called classical music, you want your band to include detours into Jazz, improvisation, funk and atonality.

That is the situation facing cellist Susanne Paul, leader of the Move String Quartet and violinist Irene Kepl, guiding force behind Violet Spin. A collection of short, very short and longer tracks these CDs pinpoint the advantages and drawbacks of this many-sided approach. While overall the experiments are engaging there are many cases during Spin’s 15 tracks and Short Stories’ 10 that the stretching among genres becomes so overwhelming that the entire jerry-built sonic structure comes very close to collapsing. This isn’t the result of any musical shortcomings on either quartet’s part. It’s just the transitions are sometimes too far apart, with motifs not unlike parts from IKEA which when assembled don’t appear to exactly fit.

Consider the band members’ pedigree. German-American Paul has collaborated with, among others Uwe Kropinski and the Strings of Fire Leipzig. Icelandic violinist Ger∂ur Gunnarsdóttir has worked with the Gürzenich Orchestra Cologne and Nils Wogram. Austrian violist Marie-Theres Härtel has played with the Graz Opera and the WDR Big Band. Portuguese bassist Carlos Bica leads the Azul band and worked with players as different as Alexander von Schlippenbach and Joey Baron. This variety is the same for the all-Austrian Violet Spin, Kepl has recorded with Mark Holub and Petr Vrba. Violinist Andreas Semlitsch has worked in contemporary operas and the Bregenzer Festspiele. Violist Martina Bischof is a member of the Lower Austrian Max-Brand-Ensemble and cellist Fabian Jäger besides playing pop music is part of the Viennese Band Bell Etage.

This varied background explains some of the CDs’ coherence problems. Violet Spin for instance brings equal skill to the bouncing foot-tapping rhythms that distinguish the introductory “lf”, as it does to the low-energy, octave-pushing “Affection`, where the vague hint of Maghreian juddering from the viola meets thick tremolo chords from the cello. Or consider the highly atonal “Grau”, where the rub, rolls, squeaks and faux breaths sound as if they could come from non-string instruments, whereas “Isolde” balances low-energy pizzicato plucks and a near walking cello line finally subsiding into high-pitched variations. Besides “Wind” which wraps up the program with beautifully modulated tonality from the quartet, following laughing, mandolin-like plucks from the higher-pitched instruments and moderato continuum from the lower pitched one; Spin’s key tracks are the sequential “Mulciber” and “Spazieren”. The first demonstrates how a dramatic build up of passing unison broken-octave swipes can be pushed into a harder interface and then reconstituted with a gorgeously balanced harmonic reprise. These gorgeous harmonies turn staccato and on the second tune, breaking apart into a combination of old-timey fiddling and cross pulses from the other strings, reaching a finale with a mellow counter melody from the cellist.

The Move String Quartet’s strategy is somewhat different, since its more bottom–oriented featuring cello and double bass, plus the fact that Bica is a recognized Jazz improviser. That means that a track like “Chromalog 2C” is anchored by Bica’s power plucks while the others use spiccato rhythmic invention to describe and decorate the narrative. On the other hand a piece such as “Shake It Off” builds its textures from group interaction ranging from pizzicato plucks to a staccato downward slide that signals the screeching finale. More sequential, “Affection” is effective in allowing polyrhythmic timbres to vibrate at the top, while the cellist, like the lead actor in a production, makes a dramatic presentation, backed by muscular double bass plucks and later a rainbow of undulating tones from the violin and viola. Eventually as Roma-fiddle like suggestions are moved into the program, it climaxes with undulating textures.

Both groups have set up string-quartet configurations that are beyond the ordinary. But both appear more concerned with variety than consistent messaging. Violet Spin could perhaps do so in future by trying out lengthier, multi-part creations, while Move could take advantage of Bica’s Jazz-improv expertise by beefing up the rhythmic function from the bottom.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Violet: 1. Elf 2, Bingo 3. Chromalog 2A 4. Mulciber 5. Spazieren 6. Chromalog 2C 7. Affection 8. Red & Blue 9. Face 2 Face 10. Isolde 11. GeSchichten 12. Still 13. Chromalog 2D 14. Grau 15. Wind

Personnel: Violet: Irene Kepl, Andreas Semlitsch (violin); Martina Bischof (viola) and Fabian Jäger (cello)

Track Listing: Short: 1. Air 2. Shake It Off 3. Push 4. Iceland 5. Mirror Mirror 6. Horse 7. Herancas 8, Andi Said 9. Turn Back Never 10. Believer

Personnel: Short: Ger∂ur Gunnarsdóttir (violin); Marie-Theres Härtel (viola); Susanne Paul (cello) and Carlos Bica (bass)