TONART STRING QUARTET/OLE HOFFMANN

4+1
True Muze TUMU CD 0001

Some people have said that the Beatles' "Yesterday" was most notable because it was the first "rock" record where the instrumental accompaniment was limited to strings and an acoustic guitar. Actually the song wasn't rock, but a new hybrid that could have been called string-rock. That title doesn't exist, however, because rock music at that time — unlike now — was catholic enough to meld with sounds ranging from musique concrète to ragas.

Similarly traditionalists may refuse to hear this improv CD as "jazz". For unlike mood music "with strings" sessions by the likes of Clifford Brown, Charlie Parker or Ben Webster, there's no attempt here to showcase a macho reed soloist caressing ballads atop a bed of violins and cellos.

Instead the selections, written by pioneering German Free Jazz drummer Harry Nitz are spiky and uncompromising, with the saxophone soloist integrated within the string unit. Maybe it's string-jazz, if a title is needed. It's an improvised concept which builds on a framework of sonic textures that outlines the total piece, yet leaves large enough spaces for individual improvisation, so that the tunes are defined and redefined every time they're played.

At the same time the TonArt four are more than "strings". Part of the new breed of improv string ensembles like the John Zorn-directed Bar Kokhba and the Cecil Taylor-influenced Pyramid String Quartet, TonArt sees no contradiction in using this traditional grouping for very modern music. You particularly note its skill on the two tracks without Hoffmann, where pizzicato guitar-like tones come from the fiddles and a countermelody is provided by a bow sawing on the bass's bridge. The resulting sound more resembles the work of improv ambient champions AAM than any contemporary "classical" group.

In fact, 4+1's only weaknesses come from a melancholy sameness that pervades too many of the charts — obviously a Nitz leitmotif — and a certain timidity on the part of Hoffmann.

With a stronger saxophone soloist, willing to explore the darker, more southerly regions of his horn, this noteworthy session would have moved into the realm of necessity. As it stands now, it's a reference point for the future work of all participants.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. 21-3-7 2. Pentagon 3. 21-3-7-XXV 4. Polygon II 5. 21-3-7 XXIV

Personnel: Ole Hoffmann (baritone saxophone); TonArt String Quartet: Nicola Krause (violin); Mike Rutledge (viola); Krischa Weber (cello); Peter Niklas Wilson (bass)