Ethel takes the path-breaking work of the Kronos Quartet much further in the New Music genre. They don’t even call themselves a string quartet anymore, and this disc comes up in iTunes listed under the Jazz genre rather than Classical. Plus, to add confusion to confusion, the list of titles on the cardboard slipcover is in an entirely different order than those listed in the note booklet. I went by what came up from the GraceNote database, which agreed with the inside notes.
Ethel dresses up the string quartet with sound effects, whistles, striking the sides of their instruments for percussive effects, and on the Pamela Z work Ethel Dreams of Temporal Disturbances various women’s spoken voices. #3 is one of Don Byron’s “Thoughts on Marvin Gaye.” Three of the dozen tracks are by quartet member Mary Rowell, one using a theme from pianist Lennie Tristano. It’s easy to hear why this ensemble is bringing chamber music to new ears – many of whom have never listened to live performance of classical music before. They’re cutting edge, but with rhythmic and melodic chops that appeal to younger generations, plus a non-stuck-up sense of humor. The closing track, for example, mixes the speech of a parrot named Einstein with the quartet and lots of other voices and sound effects.
– John Sunier