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Peter Sprague String Consort: Dr. Einstein's Spin

Robert Bush By

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Composer/guitarist Peter Sprague isn't well-known, but there are few musicians operating at his level; he counts pianist Chick Corea, bassist Charlie Haden and fellow six-stringer Pat Metheny among his enthusiastic supporters.

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 alone—balancing alacrity with pure sound sculpture. The string quartet cranks it up towards a fusion caterwaul reminiscent of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, then it boils down to Sprague and Moore, wrestling in an explosive duel that takes on the characteristics of a John Coltrane/Elvin Jones exchange.

Chamber music that ripples with muscularity and the flow of real improvising, Dr. Einstein's Spin is a sublime balance of disparate elements that makes for rewarding listening.

Track Listing: Mundaka; Molecules (Dr. Einstein's Spin Movement I); Rainbows (Dr. Einstein's Spin Movement II); The Expanse (Dr. Einstein's Spin III); The End of the Internet.

Personnel: Peter Sprague: guitars; Bob Magnusson: double-bass; Duncan Moore: drums; Bridget Dolkas: violin; Jeanne Skrocki: violin; Pam Jacobson: viola; Lars Hoefs: cello; Carter Dewberry: cello (1).

Title: Dr. Einstein's Spin | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: SBE records

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