Real Vocal String Quartet
The classically-trained players of the Real Vocal String Quartet have lost it. As can be witnessed on their debut eponymous recording (February 9, 2010, independent release) and in concert, they bang on their violins, stomp their feet, and allow African trance music to influence their take on old timey standards. But it's not their sanity that they have lost. Gone is their ability to stay within the constraints of either the old school classical world where musicians must frequently forsake their creativity for the overall sound of the orchestra or the often unapproachable reaches of the contemporary classical world. "There is a perception that 'new music' for classically trained musicians needs to be difficult or inaccessible," says Dina Macabee, a violinist/fiddler/violist in the group. "We are all totally into challenging ideas but we also like pop music. And we feel like just because you have a highly trained skill set doesn't mean you need to play obscure music." Their simultaneous singing and stringing--a barrier buster in itself--may just be the perfect combination for straddling these musical worlds.
Irene Sazer--an original member of the acclaimed, genre-bending Turtle Island String Quartet--founded Real Vocal String Quartet, but is swiftly moving to make the new endeavor a collective one, a mode that flies in the face of the soloist- and conductor-centric classical world as well as the dude-centric rock world. "There are many neuroses that come with being a classical violinist; perfectionism among them." explains Sazer, who's a regular fixture in the San Francisco Bay Area's classical, jazz, and American roots music scenes. "Often in the pedagogy, there's a real meanness. There's a good and a bad, a right and a wrong. You succeeded, you failed. It's a very restrictive box that I've been working on breaking out of my whole life. One of my goals and needs in life is to create an ensemble where there is room for everybody."
By creating that space, the all-women Quartet embraces the diverse influences of all four players, from Balkan and circus-klezmer to West African and bluegrass. Sounds and songs inspire the Quartet from every which way. Their individual voices are distinct, but together, they blend with each other perfectly. The Quartet is rounded out by Alisa Rose (violin) and Jessica Ivry (cello) who has been heard on a hip-hop retelling of Dante's Inferno and playing with jazz vocalist Nneena Freelon among other things. All four players add their vocals to the mix.
The diversity of the four players' experiences reverberates through their new album. For instance, "Talking Strings, Talking Drum" imitates on Western strings the totally unique sound of the African talking drum. "I find myself most fascinated and soothed by rhythmic texture these days," said Sazer. "I was listening to these intricate rhythmic sections and the scintillating vocals of African music." "Talking String, Talking Drum" exemplifies the breadth of influence in the group as well as their desire to work outside the norm. The Quartet makes use of the talking drum in an undeniably unconventional way and it works beautifully
"Kothbiro," the jaw-dropping first song on the album was composed by Ayub Ogada, a Kenyan artist who's known for entrancing vocal melodies accompanied on his nyatiti, plucked lute, on Peter Gabriel's Real World Records. The Quartet sings Ogada's lyrics phonetically--just as his cult following audiences did on his rare U.S. performances--without speaking the language, and their violins, viola, and cello transform as they take on the swirling and rhythmical melody of his lyre.
The Quartet's tight bond is only helped by being an all-women's ensemble. "I feel like I'm playing with my friends," says Sazer. The fact that every member in the band is a woman is not entirely an accident. "Many of the groups we've played in the past with have been mostly male," said Maccabee. "I think in some ways this could be in reaction to that. I think we just enjoy working in a space away from the 'dudeness of band practice.'" More precious than their womanness is the mutual desire to work together collectively and to explore string and vocal music.
Wherever they began individually, together, the players in Real Vocal String Quartet have gone somewhere entirely new. Their chemistry as a musical group has become a catalyst for a creative explosion. They've taken their classical and jazz training, and combined it with their talent and other forays for their debut album. African, Brazilian, Balkan, Bluegrass: they've stretched beyond the conceived limits of string music. It may seem like they've absolutely lost it, but it doesn't take an expert to see that they've known where it was the entire time.
Empty Sea Studios
6300 Phinney Ave N
Seattle, WA 98103
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