Traverse City favorites TISQ have long been esteemed as the worlds top all right, pretty much only jazz-based string quartet. Here the group teams up with the Ying Quartet, a nearly-as-famous set of classical string players. The results are engaging at times, but generally rooted more in the classical tradition than the jazzy territory TISQ is known for. Turtle Island leader David Balakrishnans Maras Garden of False Delights is precise and amelodic enough that it could be by that other vanguard of string quartet originality, Kronos. Variations on an Unoriginal Theme is a jaunty treat that veers back and forth from Appalachian-style fiddling to European classicism. Uneven though it is, 4+Four will grow on the listener, but its at odds with the best of Turtle Island.
Keren Ann Nolita Metro Blue
Keren Ann Zeidels unique alt-pop melds folksy guitars and French cabarets. Her breathy vocal style will probably turn some people off, but her singing with herself on such tracks as Roses and Hips complements her odd guitar harmonies and the harmonica of Jean-Jacques Milteau. Elsewhere celebrated jazz bassist Avishai Cohen plays trumpet on the title track, and Karen Brunons multi-tracked violins approximate a outré quartet sound. The story narration on Song of Alice is a bit much, but again, that criticism could apply to pretty much any song on Nolita and yet, its still full of charms. Keren Ann combines her voice with her guitar and keyboards to craft an album that is pretentious, over-the-top dramatic, and ultimately enjoyable.
Bela Fleck Drive Mobile Fidelity
Before there were the Flecktones, banjoist Bela Fleck was a bluegrass original. With an all-star cast of Sam Bush (mandolin), Jerry Douglas (dobro), Mark OConnor (fiddle) and Tony Rice (guitar), among others, Fleck set out to make the ultimate acoustic bluegrass project. One listen to this amazing disc tells you how well he and his hand-picked group succeeded. Like Dixieland music, bluegrass always seems like great fun for the musicians to play, but that doesnt always translate to the audience, especially an audience not particularly enamored of that style. Drive is one of those rare exceptions. No matter your musical predilections, its almost impossible to listen to this music without loving it. The moving melodic lines, uncanny interplay among the musicians involved, the pristine sound quality, and the quality of the music itself (all Fleck originals but one) make this a nonpareil album.
Steve Hackett Metamorpheus Inside Out America
Hackett certainly took his time with the follow-up to A Midsummer Nights Dream. That recording was a Top 10 album on the classical charts eight years ago. Hackett proved with that album that his orchestral writing was every bit as accomplished as his guitar playing, but while Metamorpheus lacks that element of surprise, its a grand, ambitious work that tells the musical story of Orpheuss music and his love for Eurydice. The orchestral writing is superb once again, with even more drama. The featured orchestral soloists are uniformly excellent, and Hackett has seldom sounded so good. Perhaps one criticism is that Hackett elected not to pair the orchestra with his electric guitar, but thats a minor criticism. When a recording works as well as Metamorpheus does, theres really little to quibble about.