One of his ongoing projects, The Peter Sprague String Consort, represents a true marriage of jazz trio with string quartet, and the ensemble is back after 2009's The Wild Blue (SBE, 2010) with Dr. Einstein's Spin, which was in part commissioned by Chamber Music America's New Jazz Works program.
Opening with the deliriously episodic "Mundaka," string pizzicatos swirl over drummer Duncan Moore
's shaker pattern in 11/4. An archetypal Sprague samba melody follows, with tasteful blending of single-note lines and infinite-seeming chord inversions. Moods shift into a funk feel for the guitar solo as the strings weave in and out of focus. Bassist Bob Magnusson
and cellist Lars Hoefs delve into a rich, deep exchange before violist Pam Jacobson embarks on a truly soulful journey.
The commissioned suite begins with "Molecules." On a 5/4 theme with Bartók-ian overtones, Sprague's nylon-string instrument is joined by the full ensemble's bristling intensity; the sublime integration conjures a sonic density remarkable for a chamber group. Sprague's solo is deft and daring, and Moore turns up the heat and volume as the ensemble powers toward an ecstatic vortex.
"Rainbows" is superb string writing: lush as the jungle and never saccharine, Magnusson's warm, fluid bass sets the opening vamp, with Jacobson's winding vibrato leading the way through near-impossibly rich harmonies. The strings recede for Sprague's offering, then rush back in for a short round-robin of improvised solos themselves.
"The Expanse" is where it all explodes, like a musical version of the "Big Bang." Dark, ominous voices in long dissonant intervals, with deep dialog between guitar and cello over malleted toms and shimmering cymbals, trigger an accelerando suggesting interstellar travel before Magnusson emerges alonebalancing alacrity with pure sound sculpture. The string quartet cranks it up towards a fusion caterwaul reminiscent of the Mahavishnu Orchestra