Strings aren’t only for puppets, you know

Thursday, February 21, 2013

I am a huge fan of string quartets but I have never heard an all-cello quartet. But now ...

The Boston Cello Quartet recently released “Pictures,” a CD of well-known (“Pictures at an Exhibition”) and not-so-well-known (“Waltz of the Black Ants”) pieces and it is excellent.

Of course, it helps if you admire cellos and cellists which I have done ever since my daughter studied the instrument at the Pine Hill Waldorf School in Wilton when she started fourth grade. The sound was – is – so soothing.

The problem for someone like me, of course, is that I don’t actually know wether not any cellist is technically proficient or emotionally creative but I’m not sure that it matters. I like it. I find it soothing. I find it, in at least one spot, interesting:

Many years ago I heard the trumpeter Harry James play “Flight of the Bumblebee” during an appearance on the Ed Sullivan show and I hated it. I thought it was just an exercise in seeing how quickly he could push the valves and how much air he could hold at one time. I didn’t think it served any purpose as a musical piece, although it is universally famous.

But cut six on “Pictures” is, indeed, “Flight of the Bumblebee” and dread it as I did, I was pleased to find that I enjoyed it. Oh, it’s very fast finger work, ala Harry James, but it didn’t seem quite as mooshed together as it did all those years ago on the Sullivan show where it drew long applause which, I think, was because everyone was impressed by the speed of Harry’s fingers.

Here, though? Worth a listen.

All of these cellists – Blaise Dejardin, Adam Esbensen, Mihail Jojatu, and Alexandre Lecarme - are members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and formed their quartet in 2010. They apparently have found fans outside of the classical side, opening for the Grammy-Award winning band “Train.”.

“Pictures” was released Feb. 5.

As much as I like string quartets, I have only one other CD – The San Francison String Quartet plays Brubeck, which is a very strange compilation. Imagine “Blue Rhondo Ala Turk” played on two violins, a viola and a cello.

And “Take Five”? Wow.

“Strange Meadowlark” fits wonderfully, though, and I keep hoping the Quartet will cover a bunch of Miles Davis. “So What” would be my first choice but “Blackbird” would work.

Finest piece

And I segue from that into what I’m hearing at the moment, at 6:52 a.m. here at The Cabinet office on a Friday: “Desolation Row” which I still believe to be Dylan’s finest piece.

“At midnight, all the agents and the Superhuman Crew come out and round up everyone that knows more than they do.”

“Ophelia, she’s ‘neath the window, for her I feel so afraid. On her 22nd birthday, she already is an old maid.”

“Ezra Pound and TS Eliot, fighting in the captain’s tower while calyposo singers laugh at them and fishermen hold flowers.”

“She puts her hands in her back pockets, Bette Davis style.”

I once put the CD in my car player to see how many times I could listen on the way from Portsmouth to Lyndeborough. It’s about 11 minutes long, so it was about nine times. In a row. “Desolation Row.”

A mining town song

Yeah, the finest, I think, but I point you toward “North Country Blues” from “The Times They Are a’Changin’” album, the story of the death of a Minnesota mining town which in its own depressing way is equally brilliant. I was first drawn to it for a silly reason: I was in the Navy’s School of Journalism in Great Lakes, Ill,, in 1963 when I bought the album somewhere off base and the first line that struck me from “North Country Blues” was:

“My school it was cut and I quit in the spring to marry John Thomas, a miner.”

My best friend in J school was ... John Thomas from Peoria, Ill. Dumb, yeah, but it helped me to listen closely. It’s brilliant, a real American song.

Dylan never did much with string quartets although Scarlett Rivera played a big part on the violin on “Hurricane” and a few other cuts, but no cellos.

OK, “Desolation Row” is over and we segue into The Buena Vista Social, and I really have work to do.

Oh, yeah: It’s snowing. Talk about Desolation Row.


Kathy and I watched the documentary “Searching for Sugarman” during the weekend and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

The Wadleigh Memorial Library in Milford has it (assuming I remembered to return it) and it’s the story of Sixto Rodriguez who made two excellent albums in the late ‘60s. They bombed. He disappeared.

But in South Africa people heard his albums “Cold Fact” and “Coming From Reality,” and the songs became anthems in the fight against apartheid.

And then they ... No, I won’t give it away. Just see this. It’s amazing.

A few days before I had told Kathy I would never again buy a CD but the second the movie was over, I was on half.com ordering copies of the albums.

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