When I found Len had sent me a record of four bassoons that I hadn't asked for I mentally cursed him and thought "why me?" Some days later I softened up enough to put it on and I was bowled over, I haven't heard such a feel-good record for I don't know how long.
Let's start with Bill Douglas. This sort of busy Celtic music with a swinging piano background might put you in mind of Michael Nyman, but without the aggressive hard-nosed sound of the Nyman band and maybe with more sense of real melody. It's such friendly music and the note-writer is quite right to refer to him all through as "Bill" because that's the kind of music it is (would you ever think of Nyman as "Mike"?). Just to show he has a serious side "Jewel" is quietly tender while, if you still think bassoons are only good for a joke, then Funking in Spain's got every fart in the repertoire. Bill's pieces are interspersed through the programme, not grouped together as I have listed them, and in fact we have a very listener-friendly sequence, alternating the pieces with piano (just Bill's) and percussion with the bassoons-only pieces, and the very pleasing Celtic singer appearing about half-way through.
Speaking now of the pieces for only bassoons, Maxwell Davies's two little gems sound gorgeous in this form - a quartet of bassoons can be wonderfully expressive when it likes. Fraser Jackson's notes tell us that Mozetich's Odes to the Americas is the one piece here not written or arranged by a bassoonist, but he adds "they are a joy to play". They certainly sound it. Odes is a substantial three-movement piece in a modern melodic style, extracting plenty of variety from the quartet. In this context Berlin and Piazzolla seem like classics and they come off effectively, while more tango material comes from Mathieu Lussier. Raymond Scott was apparently quite well-known in the 1930s and is a worthwhile rediscovery.
The Caliban Quartet has a real corporate identity, it knows how to create and present an interesting programme. I only hope the CD gets the marketing it deserves because it's that rare thing; it's not "classical", it's not "light", it's not even "contemporary" as the word is usually understood, it's MUSIC and could unite a wide range of listeners accustomed to snob one another's product. More records like this might even give the lie to Norman Lebrecht's gloom and doom prognostications for the "serious" music scene.