Emergency String (X) tet/Rent Romus

Emergency Rental
Edgetone EDT 4100

Rather like Rockers Paul Revere and the Raiders’ Yankee response to the 1960s British Invasion, the San Francisco-based Emergency String (X)tet demonstrates that it’s not only Continental ensembles that can create notable string-based Free Music.

As opposed to mindless xenophobia practiced by Sarah Palin and Tea Party members, the improvisations of this group don’t have to be praised because they’re from Americans, but can be applauded as high calibre work regardless of geographical origin. One factor contributing to the CD’s outstanding qualities is the blending of the seven strings with sharp, discursive interjections from Rent Romus’ alto or soprano saxophone.

The Emergency String (X) tet was organized by cellist Bob Marsh after his 2000 arrival in the Bay area from Chicago, where he had played in a similarly constituted group. Marsh, who is in a long-term duo with saxophonist Jack Wright, is also part of local bands such as Moe! Staiano’s Moe!chestra and the Abstractions, led by guitarist Ernesto Diaz-Infante and Romus. One definition for the X in this chamber group’s name results from its fluctuating membership. This time out, besides Marsh and Romus, the (X) tet includes violinists Adria Otte, Angela Hsu and Jonathan Segel, cellist Doug Carroll, Tony Dryer on bass and Kanoko Nishi on bass koto. Unusual timbres created by the string choir due to its unique structure plus this out-of-the-ordinary instrumentation add to the (X) tet’s sonic appeal. Romus – whose projects range over dozens of bands and playing partners including pianists Thollem Mcdonas and Scott R Looney, singers and electronics manipulators – slides comfortably into the string-heavy groove here.

More notably, nowhere on the CD is the expected shibboleth of soloist-plus-strings expressed. Instead the saxophonist’s atonal trills or wide vibrato runs are treated as part of the musical gestalt, no more-or-less prominent than the strings themselves. “Springtide in San Francisco” and “Waiting by the Window” aptly demonstrate this. On the former, sliced-and-diced broken chord jettes from the strings follow wooden whacks from the bows’ frogs and precede Romus’ downward glissandi and tongue sprawls. Climatically forceful interchange is expressed as the tempo slows, soon outlining harsh pizzicato vibrations and multiphonic reed asides.

More expansive, “Waiting by the Window” is taken legato, with the resulting glissandi divided between the higher-pitched fiddles’ sul tasto scrubs and stops and lower-pitched tremolo counter lines from the cellos, koto and bass. When the dual cellos blend for an ostinato, the other strings’ introduce reductionist patterns as discursive reed squeaks encircle the string narrative and conclude the piece with its own downward-sliding cries.

Other sections include contrapuntal string clicks that resemble signal processing; layered legato textures from all; an extended rubato showcase for the three violinists; and an a capella, tongue-stopping, reed-buzzing display by Romus, which simultaneously opens up and mocks the faux romanticism of “Dark Shadows”.

Skills, smarts and sympathetic interaction make Emergency Rental a memorable disc. Unlike those so-called populist Americans who can’t understand anything outside their borders, Marsh, Romus and the String (X)tet can be admired for creating music that amplifies world-wide sound principles.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Vanish to the Point 2. Something wonderful 3. Springtide in San Francisco 4. Waiting by the Window 5. 6th Street 7. Dark Shadows

Personnel: Rent Romus (alto and soprano saxophones); Adria Otte, Angela Hsu and Jonathan Segel (violins); Bob Marsh and Doug Carroll (cellos); Tony Dryer (bass) and Kanoko Nishi (bass koto)