Something Different: Basquiat Strings – “Part Two”


Basquiat Strings - "Part Two"Really nice to see a new release by the Basquiat Strings, an outfit that synthesizes classical, jazz, and folk down to an enchanting beauty.  On their sophomore recording Part Two, the jazz and folk elements are toned down from their debut self-titled recording, in which they did renditions of Wayne Shorter’s “Infant Eyes,” the Zawinul/Davis “In a Silent Way,” and an outstanding version of Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman.”  However, the combination of classical string quartet and jazz rhythm section return for the new album, and the heart of the music hasn’t changed, even if it pumps blood to a slightly different beat.

Your album personnel:  Ben Davis (cello), Seb Rochford (drums), Richard Pryce (double bass), Emma Smith (violin), Vicky Fifield (violin), Jennymay Logan (viola), and guests:  Amanda Drummond (violin) and Dave Smith (drums).

This is music that more often cuts like an icy blade, but there are plenty of moments when strings blanket the room with a sunlight warmth.  The album opens with the former.  “Calum Campbell” maintains a decent pace, led by Rochford and Pryce on drums and bass.  When strings enter, they do so in attack mode, sounding assertive, sometimes even caustic, and very cold.

This is followed by “Bobett II,” a tune which doesn’t raise the temperature much, but the icy sharpness is transformed into a comforting blanket of snow.  A lilting pattern of twisting notes on strings rises and descends with graceful precision.

The ensemble shifts away from the consistent tempos of the previous two tracks on “History of Her.”  A chatty cadence on strings and percussion slowly builds up to a tumultuous boil.  It’s the kind of thing the ensemble has shown a knack for over the course of two recordings… seamless shifts in tempo and tone, voice and volume, that sound natural, almost logical, even when they reach a point of hysteria grown up from the quiet beginnings of serenity.  “Scam” is more evidence of this trait.

“Slopes” is pure blissful harmony.

“Great Gables” initiates a thick groove on the back of Pryce’s bass.  When strings enter, they emulate the existing cadence.  Extrapolations and solos stay near, as surfing the crest of the groove’s wave.

“Bebella” is a Mobius Strip made into song.  Different views and angles are presented, and yet all the while, it never leaves the path, never traverses an edge or breaks from pattern.  There is a fluidity to the song that brings it back from whence it began, even though the path it takes may not make that clear.  It is full of intrigue and expectation.

“Hop Scotch” has an interesting swing and sway that occasionally breaks free from the tumultuous onslaught.  The song takes a few turns, a change of pace, and a whimsical reference to Gershwin’s “Nice Work If You Can Get It.”

The album ends with Ben Davis performing a solo rendition of another Gershwin tune, “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” from Porgy and Bess.  It’s a bundle of folksy charm and pragmatic blues.  And as an album finale, in stripped down form, the final revealing moment serves as a satisfying conclusion.

There is an odd beauty at play here, and through two recordings, Basquiat Strings gives no reason not to want more of it in the future.  As with all the albums featured in the Something Different review series, Basquiat Strings provides a creative view that’s pretty much in a category all by itself.

Released on the F-IRE Collective label.

Music from the UK.

Available at eMusic.  Available at Amazon: MP3