Quartetski’s interpretation of classic works has been a mixed approach in the best possible way. Their version of Stravinski’s Le Sacre du printemps adhered near 50% of the time to the mystical original, the other portion being a different type of genius musical accoutrement.* The group’s Prokofiev covers turned the Russian composer into a hard-bopping jazz man. Now the quintet (oh the irony) sifts through 96 acts that make up the first three books of “progressive piano pieces” by Béla Bartók’s Mikrokosmos and offers 25 greatest hits.
The results here are… fun. They range from playful, naïve (per the simpler works intended as etudes for Bartók’s young son Péter) to mischievous to bold to sweet and stark. Livre I: I. Six mélodies à l’unisson wiggles out of the corner with Bernard Falaise’s gentle guitar melody. He hangs on a last note as Phillippe Lauzier’s bass clarinet and Isaiah Ceccarelli on xylophone meander in the delicate simplicity. Violinist Joshua Zubot offers a syrupy line and pause before the group — with Pierre-Yves Martel rounding out the mix on electric bass guitar — slams into a stint of rocking out. Turning on a dime, Lauzier is joined by a drifting melodica until a micro-burst of slinky jazz slips in. Livre III: XIII. Gamme pentatonique shimmers with a bloated pitch-shifting guitar (as in it sounds like someone skronking on a harmonizer pedal), slightly-out-of-tune synth and lively pizzicato from Zubot. An icy, wandering duet of wind instruments (soprano sax riffing that would make sense coming out of Evan Parker) meets lithe, mandolin-like strums, and the band slams back into the relatively pummeling, lugubrious rock; the mania of the sax persists as the rest of the crew hunker into a big ol’ groove.
Livre II: VI. Accompagnement en accords brisés comes with slide whistle sounds, pick slides, sexy rhythmic patterns, fun accordion-like chords (more melodica), the work coming off as Tom Waits scoring a Jim Jarmusch flick; Livre II: X. Méditation adopts the same aesthetic, but adds sultry tremolo guitar to the fold. Livre II: Dialogue is 43 seconds of punctuating distorted crunch whose last pluck probably ended with tongue out and a devil horns hand pose.
Makrokosmos, the final and longest piece at over nine minutes, is the quintet sinking into a wave of droning material with wispy gestures of bowed cymbals, squeaking harmonics and deep rumbles percolating to the surface. The juxtaposition of style here furthers the mystique of the album in that, sonically, it eulogizes the previous tracks. “Bartók, you are why we are gathered today, and this record is an artifact to the influence you had on us. Look at what your legacy produced!”
Technical virtuosity meets a virtuosity in cleverness is the best way to describe this music. Homage, respect, innovation: paint that on a banner and hang it at the next Quartetski show.
*This is an album that will be included in my desert island bunker.