Pieces by nine very different composers make up this fascinating collection of works for string quartet entitled Short Stories, performed by the Kronos Quartet. Elliott Sharp's Digital (1986) is a hard-edged rhythmic study using the instrument bodies as drums, with objects inserted in the strings to create rattling, shaker, and tambourine-like sounds. Steve Mackey's arrangement (1989) of the classic Chicago blues tune "Spoonful" (1960), by the prolific Willie Dixon, exaggerates the gestures of the song and employs complex harmonies and modernistic devices like string crunches, etc. John Oswald's Spectre (1990) opens with the naive sound of the quartet tuning up. Electronics spread the sound into a gradually building tornado until the overwhelming "spectre" appears like masses of metallic raindrops flying throughout the space in a thunderous fortissmo. John Zorn's Cat O' Nine Tails (Tex Avery Directs the Marquis de Sade) from 1988 contrasts gentle and stinging gestures from the Classical period with sound-effect music like that in Tex Avery's outrageous cartoons. Henry Cowell's brilliant Quartet Euphometric (1916 - 1919) interweaves lines in irrational time divisions of 1/3 notes, 1/7 notes, and so on. Steven Mackey's Physical Property (1992) adds an electric guitar to the ensemble in an angular, rhythmically propelled piece that lies between rock, Bartók, and atonality. Scott Johnson's beautiful Soliloquy features the voice of I.F. Stone translated into rhythm for the instrumentalists. The text is a plea for a sense of world community. Sofia Gubaidulina's eerie Quartet No. 2 (1987) is built on ghostly tremolos and chromatics moving around a sustained tone. The late and beloved Pandit Pran Nath sings Aba Kee Tayk Hamaree (It Is My Turn, O Lord) with tabla and tambouras as the quartet creates a harmonic drone. The Kronos is in top form throughout all these selections.
AllMusic Review by "Blue" Gene Tyranny
|How It Happens the voice of I. F. Stone|