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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, James Poore, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Bert Thompson, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf

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Misirlou [3:09]
Amado Mío with Luz Casal [4:25]
Nature Boy [3:33]
Come Together [3:06]
Unrequited [6:03]
Intro Calling You [2:35]
Calling You [6:22]
Corcovado with Stacey Kent [3:23]
Nothing Personal [6:49]
Footprints [8:47]
Lilac Wine with Fanny Ardant [4:51]
Smile [5:35]
Someday My Prince Will Come [3:51]
Somewhere (Over the Rainbow) with Natalie Dessay [6:47]
7-29-04 The Day Of [4:39]
Streets of Philadelphia [5:38]

Quatuor Ébène (Piere Colombert (violin); Gabriel Le Magadure (violin); Mathieu Herzog (viola); Raphaël Merlin (cello)); Richard Héry (drums).
rec. 20 Nov 2009 (Natalie Dessay), 2 Dec 2009 (Fanny Ardant), 16 Apr 2010 (Luz Casal), 23 Apr 2010 (Stacey Kent), Studio de la Grande Armée, Paris. [79:19]

Quatuor Ébène was founded in 1999 at the Boulogne-Billancourt Conservatory in France. It repertoire cannot be condensed into one genre or style; they have made many acclaimed classical records ranging from Brahms to Ravel. On this CD we encounter their diverse versions of songs from Pulpfiction, Modern Times, Ocean’s 12 and The Wizard of Oz. Highlighting this versatility, music critic for the New York Times Allan Kozinn described the group as ‘a string quartet that can easily morph into a jazz band’. As musicians of both jazz and classical compositions, they certainly straddle the two worlds with ease and authenticity.

Dipping in offers a dumbfounding concoction of different styles and timbres ranging from the stark slap of strings to their soft, lissom vibrato. Beautiful arrangements and layered harmonies with an excellent pizzicato cello and percussion solo in Nature Boy are unfortunately clipped and fettered to somewhat staid passages such as those found in Someday My Prince Will Come and Somewhere (Over the Rainbow).

Lilac Wine with Fanny Ardant sounds as if it has been taken off a Velvet Underground and Nico CD. Rhyming ‘hazy’ with ‘crazy’ before exhaling breathlessly, Ardant as a Venus in furs or femme fatale certainly holds your attention. When listening to this piece one thinks of helpless women sipping absinthe at a Parisian bar, such as those in a Jean Rhys novel.

With the scratches and pops of an old gramophone, Smile is a cinematic piece harking back to film noir and Parisian chic. When it entertains a bossa nova beat and musical theatre harmonies this romance which makes one think of Fritz Kreisler’s Liebesleid is lost.

Songs such as Amado Mío and Corcovado — with vocalists Luz Casal and Stacey Kent respectively — are pleasing and contain snippets of transporting qualities. That said, the listener is never made to get out of his armchair, let alone feel surrounded by an array of Hispanic flavours. Quatuor Ébène has the ability to alert and excite a listener with moments of thrilling improvisation; however these glistening excerpts can just as quickly sink into a nebulous puff of salon cushions.

Perhaps the best arrangement on this CD is of Come Together originally by The Beatles. This song, which has been covered by a vast gamut of artists from The Supremes to The Arctic Monkeys, offers a tight, structured platform from which interpreters can launch out. Quintessentially cool, Richard Héry on drums and Raphaël Merlin on cello both beat out Paul McCartney’s bass line behind the energised violins. Throughout the CD Merlin frequently plays like Charles Mingus, with strong pizzicato and numerous bent notes. The textures and inventiveness of Héry can be heard on Calling You (tracks 6 and 7). Described as a percussionist who plays with velocity and veracity on ‘tom-toms, cymbals, Indian tablas, urdus and tarams and also on lamps, concrete saws and even his own skull’, Héry doesn’t just bang a gong.

With a wah-wah guitar played on an Italian violin from the 18th century, David Holmes’s 7-29-04 The Day Of from Ocean’s 12 exudes a devil may care, Rat Pack attitude and is held together by Héry’s quicksilver beats.

Nothing Personal begins with a tinkling on the cymbal, but quickly morphs into an electrifying burst of colour. This is before it slips into Pierre Colombet’s arabesque theme which is utterly seductive and entrancing. Like a scene from Morocco, this piece continues to expand and pops all stiff-upper-lip buttons revealing a daring and frivolous bouquet of sound. Breaking out into big-band beats, Art Blakey style rhythms and Stéphane Grappelli’s lyricism, this piece lurches and slides through multiple jazz genres until its abrupt close. Merlin’s oud-like pizzicato on Footprints blossoms into a musical realisation of a Persian Ghazal poem.

This is formidable ensemble work of the highest order and alone makes this CD worth purchasing, not to mention the superb sound quality. Harmonics, pizzicato, glissandi and spiccato are played with verve. The virtuosic violin solo improvisations which sit on top of this patchwork quilt are all neatly mixed and balanced under the instruction of Fabrice Planchat. The same kaleidoscopic textures can be found in recordings by jazz pianist Michel Petrucciani. However, this CD is a Jekyll and Hyde of daring successes and saccharine sing-a-longs. The result is bound to divide opinions.

Lucy Jeffery


See also review by Jonathan Woolf


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