What Is American
Works by Dvořák, Rhiannon Giddens, Vijay Iyer, Waller et al
Bright Shiny Things BSTD-0171 62:02 mins
PUBLIQuartet do things differently. Dedicated to presenting new works for string quartet in new ways, the ensemble won a Grammy nomination for Freedom and Faith, a celebration of women in music. What is American looks set to shake things up again. The album explores the wealth of styles that trace their roots back to American indigenous and Black music, and deploys the quartet’s formidable improvisatory skills to intriguing effect.
The disc’s centrepiece is an imaginative response to Dvořák’s ‘American’ String Quartet. Some passages of Dvořák’s original score remain intact, while elsewhere the performance move towards jazz and folk styles, or recreate blues vocals or rock-guitar riffs or conjure experimental sound effects. The result is fascinating but listeners are advised this is a long way from the original score. The remainder of the disc features excellent new works from Vijay Iyer and Rhiannon Giddens, plus improvised responses to the music of everyone from Tina Turner to Fats Waller.
The recording feels a touch dry but there is a thrilling immediacy to the playing itself. More detailed sleeve notes would be welcome, but this is otherwise a boldly imaginative disc that embraces the breadth of America’s musical history.