2013 was the 40th anniversary of Kronos Quartet. I first heard of them about eight years after they started with their cool arrangement of “Purple Haze.” And then I learned that they were like a sponge, soaking up and playing music from all over the world: In just one year they released albums with tango, songs by South African composers, Polish composers, jazz musicians and so much more.
I have many of their releases, although I realized I more or less stopped listening to new stuff from them around the turn of the century (since when they have released some 16 albums!).
Well, amazingly, the Quartet is still the same original players (except for the cellist–the cello is like Kronos’ drummer as they seem to replace her every couple of years).
They play three pieces here and the three range the gamut from dark and broody to rather sweet to quirky. In other words, typical Kronos.
For more info:
The musicians — David Harrington (violin) and longtime members John Sherba (violin) and Hank Dutt (viola) and new (as of 2013) cellist Sunny Yang — could reminisce over more than 800 new works and arrangements they’ve commissioned in 40 years. But instead, the new-music train pushes ever onward to new territories. They remain a living, breathing world-heritage site for music.
Now in the midst of its 40th-anniversary tour, Kronos brings to this Tiny Desk Concert a new arrangement, a work from a new album and, for Kronos, something of a chestnut, a piece the group recorded a whopping five years ago.
“”Aheym” (Yiddish for “homeward”) was written for Kronos by Bryce Dessner; a member of the Brooklyn rock band The National, he studied composition at Yale. The music thrives on nervous energy, pulsating with strumming and spiccato (bouncing the bow on strings) while building to a tremendous fever.”
I love this piece. It is intense and dramatic with its 4-3-3 bowing from all four members. There’s an interesting cello melody with pizzicato strings from the rest. The overall melody seems somewhat circular with different instruments taking on different leads. But this song also plays with some interesting bowing techniques. In addition to the spiccato (about 4 minutes in), the players drag the bow for momentary scraping and scratching sounds.
Another wonderfully dramatic moment comes at 7 minutes where each musician takes a turn bowing his or her note while the violin plays a super fast series of notes. The song builds and build in dramatic until it gets to about nine and half minutes and it reaches its powerful ending.
“Lullaby,” opens with plucked cello notes and strummed viola. “It is a traditional song with Afro-Persian roots (from the group’s Eastern-flavored 2009 album Floodplain), [and] is woven from different cloth altogether. Colorful tones that lay between our Western pitches are threaded through the music, anchored by a gorgeous solo from violist Dutt; his contribution takes on the warm and weathered sound of a grandmother singing to a child.” It is slow and moody and beautiful.
Harrington introduces the final piece by saying it’s by a performer that no one had heard of–including, until recently, even himself.
“Kronos caps off the concert with another hairpin turn, this time to a fresh arrangement of “Last Kind Words,” a little-known blues song from around 1930, recorded by singer and guitarist Geeshie Wiley. In Jacob Garchik’s exuberant arrangement (which Kronos premiered this fall), interlocking strums and plucks provide a kind of rhythm section, while Harrington’s violin stands in for the now-forgotten blues singer.”
There’s lots of plucked notes from everyone–including plucked bent note on the viola which gives it a real “early” guitar sound. While I don’t know what Geeshie sounded like, so I can’t compare the violin to her vocal, the whole thing sounds great together. In fact the whole thing is unlike any string quartet I’ve heard–so different and wonderful.
I’m going to have to bust out so Kronos CDs.
[READ: September 10, 2016] There’s a Monster in My Socks
I’ve been quite puzzled about the publication history of the Liō books. And this just adds another layer of confusion. This book covers the exact same time period as Happiness is a Squishy Cephalopod which was published in 2007. The difference is that Cephalopod placed all of the strips in order, while this one seems to move things around quite a bit (the thinner format also means that it can’t quite handle the single panel strips very well. But more egregious is that this volume (remember, the one printed after the previous one) prints the Sunday color strips in black and white.
The book also leaves some of the strips out. It covers the date range from May 15, 2006 – Feb 16, 2007 (Cephaolopod went to May 23), but while it has the Feb 14 strip, it does not have the Feb 15 strip. Weird.
So, basically this is an inferior version of the same book, but the publishers presumably wanted the books in this more friendly size (or some other nefarious reason).
I’ll include the review of Cephalopod below.
And, here’s the current list of existing Liō books. It’s a shame that there are years and years of strips thus far uncollected. (more…)