The Strad Issue: January 2012
Description: Mixed results in an attempt to bring the big-band sound to strings
Musicians: String Fever/Marin Alsop (violin)
Composer: Various

Several years before her conducting career took off, Marin Alsop formed, as a violinist, the String Fever ensemble, and this album comprises two recording sessions of jazz standards from 1983 and 1997.

It’s unusual to find a string group of this size (13) playing this repertoire, and the opening Duke Ellington number is promising, with convincing phrasing giving bite to the warm sound and close-harmony swirls. The group’s commitment and refined energy get it a long way, especially in Blue Rondo à la Turk, despite the extremely roomy acoustic adding an unnecessary wash to the sound, while solos are concise and punchy in the big-band tradition.

But there are moments where gusto cannot compensate for the blaze and blare of the original brass instrumentation, and there are occasional lapses in style, such as the rather clinical interpretation of Horace Silver’s Liberated Brother; the loose, fluid melodies of Woody Herman’s Four Brothers are a much better match for the group’s inherent elegance. The strength of the arrangements is also a bit uneven, and the lengthy and somewhat meandering final suite (Manhattan Medley) is a strange choice for the album’s end. It’s a shame that the momentum of the beginning peters out somewhat, leaving a mixed impression of the recording as a whole.

James Crel