Following their high octane homage Celebrating The Mahavishnu Orchestra
(ACT, 2007), Austrian conservatoire rebels radio.string.quartet.vienna return, in part, with a salute to their fellow countryman, keyboard player Joe Zawinul, who passed in 2007. The quartet, augmented by accordionist Klaus Paier, offer striking interpretations of three of Zawinul's compositionsthe iconic "In A Silent Way," from Zawinul's years with trumpeter Miles Davis, "Cannonball," Zawinul's own homage to alto saxophonist and sometime band mate Cannonball Adderley, and "A Remark You Made" which, along with the ubiquitous "Birdland, was one of the most enduring tracks on Weather Report's Heavy Weather
A fourth track, "Hosent'raga," was written by the Austrian vibraphonist Werner Pirchner, who shared Zawinul's culturally inquisitive world-jazz vision, and who died in 2001. The other six tracks were composed by Paier.
A generation younger than the pioneering jazz-playing string quartet, Kronos Quartet, radio.string.quartet.vienna's brasher take on the genre makes for compelling listening. They play fast
, attacking the strings with percussive emphasis, they play dirty
, bending notes and roughing up textures, and they play loud
. "In A Silent Way" is practically the only track to deviate from this template (and to hear the tune in its unadorned, unprocessed, acoustic state only confirms its greatness).
"Cannonball" and "A Remark You Made" are given more expansive readings, the first moving between meditative and explosive passages, the second expansively arranged by Paier and wearing its emotions on both arms. Fiercer still are Paier's "FlyUp" and Pirchner's "Hosent'raga," which are both played with a whirlwind intensity reminiscent of Mahavishnu Orchestra guitarist John McLaughlin at his most abandoned, or perhaps the dervish-like fervour of eighteenth century Italian violinist Niccolo Paganini (if his legend is to be believed). Paier's "Tarantella," an appropriately wild arrangement of the upbeat Italian dance, inhabits similar, if more mellifluous, territory, and contains especially stirring and hard swinging violin and accordion solos.
Elsewhere, Paier's composing tends towards the derivative, its influences, perhaps unsurprisingly, including Argentinian new-tango accordionist Astor Piazzolla's work with string groups. But it's the playing that's the thing here, and the playing is magnificent, in-your-face and emphatically of the times we live in. Exciting and adventuresome, a real sonic blast, Radiotree
opens up new possibilities for jazz and string quartets.