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The New York-based acoustic string ensemble Firey String Sistas! includes violin, viola, cello, double bass and harp and can, depending on the demands of the music it performs, expand from four to six to 10 pieces. What sets it apart from a growing number of chamber groups that program and play jazz, contemporary classical and other styles of improvised music are the improvising skills of each individual player. This is an ensemble where each member can navigate or leave behind the notes on a page. Under the umbrella of the Firey String Company, founded by cellist Nioka Workman to "push the art of string playing to the next level," the Firey Strings Sistas! has released its first recording: FSCO Book 1: The Blues Series, and it is an exciting introduction to the ensemble and its unique sound.
Over the course of five tracks, Workman and three of her fellow sistasviolinist Megan Atchle, violist Maryam Blacksher and double bassist Melissa Slocum
easily move between or combine complex, fully-notated textures, Latin and African- rooted grooves, and some truly creative soloing. Like many 21st century musicians, all four sistas have extensive experience studying and performing in jazz, folk, rock, classical and avant-grade idioms. Workman, who co-produced the recording with Slocum, has played with everyone from composer Anthony Davis to hip-hop mogul Jay- Z, and has composed music for dance, performance art, theater and television. On FSCO Book 1: The Blues Series, she brings her multidisciplinary approach to sound into focus to present a program of four jazz standards and her own "Uncle Arthur," an homage (or perhaps threnody) for her uncle Arthur Harper, who played bass for J.J. Johnson
. The recording quality is raw and immediate, with each instrument captured and presented as a lively component to the overall mix.
The Firey String Sistahs! performances of "Afro Blue" and "All Blues," two classic compositions that might appear to sound skeletal and unfinished without the inclusion of a drums or congas, swing and groove like nobody's business thanks to the quartet's internal and collective feel for rhythm and time, not to mention some inspired hand- drumming on the body of the cello. "I Remember Clifford," composed by Benny Golson
, is infused with new life as an arrangement for the duo of Workman and Slocum who take the tune at a slow, gently mesmerizing tempo and turn what might have been a funeral dirge into something closer to a (lost) love song. This being a contemporary take on the blues, the set concludes with Bill Evans