The Strad Issue: January 2010
Musicians: Brooklyn Rider, Kojiro Umezaki (shakuhachi/electronics) Justin Messina (electronics)
Composer: Jacobsen, Umezaki, Debussy, Yanov-Yanovsky, Cage

From the stylish CD design to the philosophical booklet notes, I was prepared to dismiss this new disc from young New York quartet Brooklyn Rider as style over substance. But in fact, it’s a serious and thoughtful disc of contrasting works orbiting Debussy’s String Quartet that successfully showcases the ensemble’s crisp, clear, well-articulated playing and infectious energy.

The opener, Achilles Heel (2009), by the group’s second violin Colin Jacobsen, is a set of character pieces built around drones and rock-like riffs, and it’s given a thoroughly convincing performance, its folksy solos delivered with an impressive ear for phrasing and articulation. (Cycles) what falls must rise (2009) by Kojiro Umezaki adds shakuhachi, a Japanese bamboo flute, and electronics to the quartet and builds from near-inaudibility to a dance of unbridled joy led by a thrumming cello bassline delivered nimbly by Eric Jacobsen. The disc’s only slight disappointment is in Justin Messina’s arrangement of John Cage’s In a Landscape where the wash of electronic sound swamps the players’ wonderfully transparent tones.

The group’s reading of the Debussy Quartet may not be to everyone’s taste – it’s fast, a little breathless, and sometimes slightly strident – but it’s hard not to be swept along by the enthusiasm and passion of the quartet’s compelling performance. Pizzicatos ring out, colours are bright, and there’s real joy in the major-mode passages in the last movement. Sound is rich and transparent throughout, although perhaps a little too generous to the cello.

David Kettle