Sometimes you find the best things in life by pure accident. Something or someone you didn’t even know you needed or were looking for. You are minding your own business, running up the stairs of life, and BOOM, it smacks you right in the chest. You find it (or them) and you don’t know how you ever lived without this presence in your life.
I have to admit, I can be overly selective of the music to which I listen. Music exists in time, and there are only so many hours in the day. ITunes tells me it would take 62 days worth of listening, 24 hours a day straight, to listen to the music already in my collection. There isn’t always time to just blindly wander about, sifting through refuse, and panning for musical gold while listening randomly to all the tunes out there. I tend, to a degree, to choose mainly things from which I have some idea what to expect. Maybe I’m just on the verge of becoming a boring old fart. Let’s hope not.
So when I first saw The Brooklyn Rider Almanac, by the string quartet Brooklyn Rider, I normally would have passed it up in a hot second. Honestly, I didn’t even recognize them as a string quartet from the name “Brooklyn Rider”. Then, by pure accident, I noticed a familiar name. Ethan Iverson, the piano player from The Bad Plus, wrote one of the compositions. (Yes fans, there is my obligatory Bad Plus reference for this week). This made me take a closer look at the album, and I am very glad I did.
I love string quartet music, from all historical periods, and especially modern quartet repertoire. It quickly became apparent to me that the Brooklyn Rider is not your average string quartet, but a modern chamber music ensemble in the vein of the Kronos quartet or eighth blackbird. It is very difficult these days to have a successful string quartet, with all of the great repertoire of the past having been recorded a million times by hundreds of great ensembles. If anyone still “bought” CD’s, I would ask “does the CD shelf really need another Beethoven cycle?”. The same could be asked about the great quartet compositions of Brahms, Mozart, Haydn and even my favorite Bartok. It’s almost impossible to get noticed with a recording of the standard repertoire.
Brooklyn Rider has avoided all of that, and reinvigorated the modern string quartet in the process. The Brooklyn Rider Almanac is an album of all contemporary music by living composers. Every track has a different musical voice, but there are some generalities about the album I can offer. The music is all modern sounding, and fresh but not harsh or dissonant. I have as much tolerance for harsh dissonance as anyone, so I wouldn’t shy away from the music if it was extra crispy, yet, this is all quite palatable. Many of the tracks are rhythmic and almost dance-like, making them pretty accessible and enjoyable even on the first listen. Repeated listening uncovers enough depth to keep one interested for a long time.
Not all of the tracks have complete independence of all four voices in the string quartet, like you might find in the Beethoven late string quartets. That is more of an observation than criticism, as the trade offs are some fresh sounds that have put new life into a 300 year old art form. Currently, my favorite tracks are the opening number, Rubin Kodheli: Necessary Henry! (2012), and of course Ethan Iverson: Morris Dance (2012).
Turns out, I must have been living under a rock for a long time. Brooklyn Rider has been recording and performing for TEN years now! The artists are :
Johnny Gandelsman, violin
Colin Jacobsen, violin
Nicholas Cords, viola
Eric Jacobsen, cello
They have recorded at least six other albums, and now I have to go look all of those up. I am ashamed to say this is my first exposure to such a vibrant and accomplished group. You can find their website at:
I urge you to take some time and listen to The Brooklyn Rider Almanac on Spotify as soon as possible.