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Strings & Bass
Florian Willeitner (violin)
Johannes Dickbauer (violin)
Matthias Bartolomey (cello)
Georg Breinschmid (double bass, bass guitar)
rec. 4Tune Studio, Vienna, January 2016
GRAMOLA 99140 [76:56]

This is the type of release that record shops – remember them? – would hate, because it is very hard to know in which section it should be shelved. Should it go in Classical, because that’s what Gramola usually does? No, because it isn’t really classical music. Should it go in Jazz? Well, maybe, but there is as much folk influence. Perhaps that’s the reason the term World Music was coined: for those recordings which don’t seem to fit in any of the usual categories.

As you can see from the details, the instruments here are those of a string quartet minus the viola, plus a double bass (or an acoustic bass guitar for two tracks). This creates the interesting acoustic of two high and two low instruments, with nothing in the middle ground.

As I wrote in the opening paragraph, the works here, all written or arranged by the performers, are cross-genre. Neither jazz nor folk is among my normal listening, but I do enjoy my occasional meander through those regions. When this appeared on the review list, I assumed because of the label that it would be classical chamber music. When it clearly wasn’t, I felt the few brief samples that I listened to, made it worth a gamble. I’m very pleased that I did.

I won’t attempt to describe each track, but rather will focus on a few highlights … and one lowlight. Without doubt the standout work is Valentinair, inspired by Irish folk music. Beginning with a beautiful solemn melody, it soon morphs into a jig and other dance rhythms. At more than fifteen minutes, there could be a danger that it goes on too long, but that isn’t the case. For lovers of this style of music, it alone could be worth the price of the CD. Without question, it will become a high-rotation piece on my playlist.

Of the more jazz-oriented pieces, 5/4 appeals most to me. I do prefer my jazz with some piano, but I still enjoyed this. Spring begins with a hint of Danny Boy, but what follows is smoky basement jazz. There is a strong element of improvisation through all tracks. If, like me, the subtleties of extended jazz solos elude you, you will be pleased to know that they are absent here.

The last piece is described as a bonus track. What does that mean? It’s not as though there is another version of this release without it. The notes suggest that it is an ironic homage to the planned encores in concerts such as the Vienna New Year’s Day Concert … hmm, if you say so. If five minutes of seemingly random music, interspersed by mumbling and shouting, is ironic, then the humour escapes me. I will be treating it as not part of the “official” programme (as per the notes) and deleting it from my hard drive. Those of you listening to the CD, you have been warned.

The performances and sound quality are excellent, and the booklet notes provide a good background to the music. There is a virtuosic element throughout, which the performers, all of whom are well-credentialed across various genres, handle with ease.

Because of the mix of jazz and folk, there is the possibility that fans of one genre will be put off by the other music. That shouldn’t be the case: with the exception of the bonus track, this is simply fine music, brilliantly performed.

David Barker

Track listing
Florian Willeitner: O(s)iris [8:00]
Georg Breinschmid: 5/4 [7:58]
Florian Willeitner: Valentinair [15:09]
Georg Breinschmid: Spring [8:16]
Johannes Dickbauer: Welcome to the World [5:45]
Georg Breinschmid: Interlude [5:37]
Georg Breinschmid: Kreizal [5:08]
Florian Willeitner: Impressione #3 [3:29]
Johannes Dickbauer: The Very Last Universe [8:04]
Traditional: Farbenspiele - The Parting Glass [4:23]
Georg Breinschmid: Schattara [5:02]



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