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Quatuor Accorde: Angel Gate

John Eyles By

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There is an increasingly high profile for improvising string players other than guitarists and double bassists. Slowly but surely, it is developing through the work of players such as Rhodri Davies, Phil Durrant, Susanna Ferrar, Ivor Kallin, Kaffe Matthews, Marcio Mattos, Phil Wachsman and Mark Wastell. Witness the recent Strings with Evan Parker album, and all-string groups such as IST (Davies and Wastell plus Simon H. Fell) and Quatuor Accorde. This fine album can only raise that profile further.

With its line-up of violin, viola, cello and double bass, Quatuor Accorde is the nearest thing to a classical string quartet that a bassist can be in. However, do not let the instrumentation fool you into expecting chamber music. This is a pithy, knotty improvising group containing experienced string improvisers. Leader Tony Wren is joined by Durrant on violin, Wastell on cello and relative newcomer Charlotte Hug (from Switzerland) on viola.

The CD is punctuated by three fairly short (longest 2:28) bass solos from Wren. The three are distinct and contrasting; Wren finds new things to say on bass that are devoid of cliches and draw little on conventional bass playing. Of the remaining nine tracks, six were recorded at Gateway Studio and three live at St Martin & All Angels Church. (As far as the album title is concerned, it is fortunate the live recording was not made at the Watermans Arts Centre.) The church has a high roof and great acoustics, so is a regular venue for improvised music. But it is not soundproof, and admits road & rail noise, which is why the quieter pieces here are from the studio session not the gig. In the live context, the four instruments exploit the church's acoustics well, with Wren's bass resounding around the space. As ever, Martin Davidson has captured the live sound excellently. The interaction between the players is extraordinary. With string improvisations, there is still no well-established vocabulary, so players such as these are simultaneously creating the vocabulary and also—as with all improvisers—avoiding overusing it. Much of the dialogue between the instruments takes place at very low volumes, with the smallest and rapidest of sounds eliciting an instant matching response. The extreme concentration of all the players is tangible on this recording; live, the tension created can be breathtaking. This is not music that can be in the background of one's life. It is intense and, to be fully appreciated, it requires total attention. Such an investment by the listener is amply repaid.

Track Listing: One (solo bass); Slow Getaway; The End of the Beginning; Scraping Through; Fermage; Turnstyle; Eye of the Needle; Two (solo bass); St Michael's Mount; Not in Fitful Visions; A Box of Lucifers; Three (solo bass)

Personnel: Phil Durrant, violin; Charlotte Hug, viola; Mark Wastell, cello; Tony Wren, double bass

Title: Angel Gate | Year Released: 2001 | Record Label: Emanem

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