Giving a shot in the arm to outdated notions, the Emergency String Quartet, by focusing on free improvisation merely as a starting point, elevate the genre to new levels. The music invigorates with surprises galore, marking them one of the most accomplished small-group string ensembles. Unlike most chamber quartets, there are few reference points and no melody or traditional harmonic structures, but the fascinating rhythms, counterpoint, syncopated beats, and extreme changes in dynamics challenge the listener. For those unaccustomed to the radical style, the results may at first sound off-putting, but after awhile the essential logic breaks through with gusto. A collection of two violins, cello, and string bass appears conventional on its face, yet the product is anything but staid and perfunctory. This quartet is not the first to perform radically improvised structures: the Kronos Quartet, the Amsterdam String Trio, and the Arditti String Quartet are others doing similar work. But the Emergency String Quartet produce a unique product -- one that is enticingly original, sometimes charming, and at others disarmingly complex, but it is never complacent and it is at times even thrilling. With the quality of performers such as Bob Marsh and Damon Smith, the expectations run high -- and in this case, they are fulfilled.
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AllMusic Review by Steve Loewy