Wild Strings Quartet, Wild Strings Quartet Review

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jfderry's review of Wild Strings Quartet, Wild Strings Quartet

“Airy fresh new readings of John McLaughlin classics...”


written by jfderry on 29/08/2006

Airy fresh new readings of John McLaughlin classics mixed inhand with flamenco-folk. There must be something in the soup recently, seems everyone and their grandma is taking on the Mahavishnu repertoire. the fiery full arrangements of the Mahavishnu Project (see review) are something quite different to what's on offer here, and, in many ways I prefer these acoustic versions. Without John McLaughlin's articulation and accurate execution, electric Mahavishnu covers can sound fuzzy, almost dirty. An acoustic instrument calls for cleaner fingering, and careful intonation. Indeed, the playing presented by the Wild Strings Quartet is exemplary. These treatments have the passion of the originals, something often lost to the coldness of acoustic work. The string arrangements are particularly wonderous, lending a Shakti-esque eastwards-looking backlight that perfectly compliments the Ottoman origin of the accompanying flamenco.

The great violinist is Peter Evans. One-Worder Mark (Marco) Anderson is a drummer who does not drum (on this album at least), but prefers to take on the mantle of multitalented guitarist and producer. The other quartet members are guitarists Philip Gibbs and Al Fernandez, and acoustic bassist Ron Savage. That makes five, but hey, who's counting?

This is guesswork, but I suspect that Marco predominantly played a steel strung acoustic throughout along with 12-string guitar and cajon (flamenco drum box) elsewhere and with a limited smattering of nylon classical. I would also guess that at least one of Marco's playing partners (perhaps Al Fernandez or Philip Gibb) is more flamenco-oriented on nylon in the flamenco pieces. Marco reigns supreme on the John McLaughlin compositions, but his steel string mixture of bass stoccato and micro string bends do not sit comfortably in the flamenco pieces. That said, it doesn't matter a jot, each piece has such novelty, any minor differences are features not flaws. The same sentiment can be extended to the most experimental track on the album, a floating eastern-like vocal supplied by Basira Ward-Davis (that makes six, but hey!) and the blips and squeaks of Philip Gibbs on a "prepared guitar". How exactly this guitar was prepared defies imagination. Possibly by detuning in a swimming pool of molasses before being thrown out of a 26th floor penthouse window. The effect is bizarre and the track is wonderfully exciting.

The John McLaughlin pieces are a brave rendition of Trilogy in it's entirety, Pastoral, Inspiration and Lila's Dance which is a superb version. The album artwork is pleasing and rather good for the scale of operation, but what's it with doorways? Seems the same bug bit Lucas Pickford and Steve Hunt for their cover of Blown Fuse (see review).

Go treat yourself to Wild Strings Quartet. It's a lovely, well balanced album of inspirational music, challenging to play and beautiful to hear.

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