Jim Connolly and The Gove County String Quartet is the debut of the Santa Barbara-based composer's newest ensemble. Leader of the mercurial chamber music septet The Gove County Philharmonic, contrabassist Connolly largely eschews the Philharmonic's eccentricities in favor of a more refined approach.
While the larger Philharmonic tends towards cinematic flourishes and a circus-like atmosphere that invokes Kurt Weill by way of Carl Stalling, Connolly's string quartet reveals an even richer vein of lyricism.
Drawing inspiration from his heritage, Connolly's compositions for string quartet owe a great deal to such American composers as Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber and Charles Ives. A classic songwriter at heart, he focuses squarely on folksy sing-song melodies and rhythmic momentum for the basic foundations of his work.
Connolly regularly uses the wide dynamics, quicksilver tempo-shifts and non-linear development commonly employed by many contemporary composers. But where many of his peers allow dissonance and angularity to dominate, Connolly concentrates instead on harmonic counterpoint and the purity of a strong melody.
Influenced by folk, gospel, country and other strains of Americana, his compositions overflow with pastoral atmosphere and bittersweet nostalgia. No stranger to popular music, he even summons a melodic kernel from the Beatles' "Across The Universe" in "Pinocchio."
Rich in harmonious detail, Connolly's compositions are not without subtle surprises. Sprightly Raymond Scott-inspired asides and strident Bartokian episodes alternate with regal passages of Bachian austerity. More episodically varied than the minimalists and more conceptually conservative than the post-serialists, Connolly's work shares similarities with new tonalists such as Aaron Jay Kernis, Michael Torke and George Tsontakis.
A beautiful record, Jim Connolly and The Gove County String Quartet expands beyond the free-wheeling antics explored by his seven-piece Philharmonic, resonating with a sense of timeless maturity.
Personnel: Jim Connolly: contrabass; Sally Barr: violin; Laura Hackstein: violin; Kirsten Monke: viola.