by Maggie Stapleton
Since the birth of Second Inversion, Brooklyn Rider‘s versatile recordings of new music for string quartet have been a significant presence on our airwaves. Eric, Nick, Johnny, and Colin also captured our hearts with a great Vine video musically depicting and celebrating “Second Inversion,” back in February 2014.
To celebrate ten years together as a quartet, they created The Brooklyn Rider Almanac. This is a collection of thirteen new compositions for string quartet mostly by composers rooted in jazz, rock, or folk music. It’s an incredible celebration of Brooklyn Rider’s musical connections in the last decade (the composers are self-proclaimed “musical crushes” and old friends) and for posterity, an expansion of the string quartet repertoire. Furthermore, the project is “about inspiration, about music being the tip of a bigger iceberg,” according to Colin Jacobsen.
Each composer indicates from which literary, musical, dance, or other artistic source the inspiration is drawn. You’ll hear music by Vijay Iyer inspired by James Brown (it grooves, hard, and requires the musicians to extend their rhythmic techniques with polyrhythmic stomping while playing); Christina Courtin inspired by Stravinsky (full of neo-classical Pulcinella-esque charm); Aoife O’Donovan inspired by William Faulkner (what I’d give to be in Mississippi, drinking a mint julep while listening to this…)
My personal favorite track on the record is Colin Jacobsen’s “Exit,” featuring the versatile vocalist Shara Worden. With a light texture of percussive hand claps, plucking pizzicati, and pointed vocal sounds, there’s an undertone of minimalism in this piece in a beautifully “less is more,” simplistic way. Colin Jacobsen cites three sources of inspiration of this piece. First is Shara Worden and her dichotomy of not giving any excess in what she sings, yet still diving head first and inhabiting the role of whatever she’s singing. Second is Kandinsky, who happens to be the lyricist of the song – “Exit” comes from a book poems and woodcut etchings called Sounds, written at a time when he was going toward abstract painting and trying to get away from the literal meaning of words. Thirdly, Jacobsen draws from David Byrnes’ How Music Works by finding just the groove that is necessary for the piece to happen and not putting anything else there.
In regard to each individual piece and the collection as a whole, it’s best for me to keep it simple and just say this music is GOOD. The type of “hand it to my friends who have little or no interest in classical music and say, ‘stop what you’re doing and LISTEN TO THIS NOW!'” good. It rethinks classical music AND the string quartet with a timeless quality, putting a stamp on the fact that music doesn’t need labels or categories or genres. Put these four (or five, in “Exit”) musicians together who can not only play music well, but express emotion and breathe life into the notes on a page, and the magic is there.
Get your own copy on Amazon or iTunes (it comes with 2 bonus tracks if you purchase on iTunes!) of the Brooklyn Rider Almanac and keep an eye on their tour schedule for a performance near you!