AMN Reviews: Violet Spin – Spin [Unit Records UTR4829]

Music has changed in radical ways since the string quartet was established in the 18th century, but as a vital force, this fundamental ensemble of two violins, viola and cello endures, and even thrives. So much so that contemporary string quartets, in both their performance practices and choice of repertoire, may inhabit aesthetic worlds more or less removed from that which we ordinarily think of as classical. Violet Spin, a Viennese quartet of eclectic inclinations, blends the influences of jazz improvisation with compositional forms reflecting more recent classical usages.

Founded in 2012 by violinist Irene Kepl, Violet Spin have performed throughout Europe and in Java. Spin is their first release, and it effectively captures the group’s ability to play within and between genres. The musicians—in addition to Kepl, Andreas Semlitsch on violin; Martina Bischof on viola; and Fabian Jäger on cello–are grounded in the discipline of classical performance and deliver a precise sound when called for, but they can also reach beyond those constraints into the looser language of creative extemporizing.

Improvisation is the predominant element in most of the fifteen pieces included here; in contrast to the conventional string quartet’s reliance on contrapuntal relationships, Violet Spin tend to favor the sound of solo voice soaring over a support of pulsing ostinato, chordal vamps or walking lines. There’s a discernible flavor of gypsy jazz, allusions to Latin rhythms and rock chord progressions, and above all, a rhythmic drive, some of it encoded in craftily changing time signatures. (Dare one tap one’s foot to a string quartet? Violet Spin give permission.) But there is another side to the group as well. The three “Chromalog” tracks are sparsely beautiful pieces in which the negative space of silence plays as important a part as the minimal sounds it surrounds; the aptly titled “Grau” weaves unpitched sounds into an acoustic grey noise. And the a capella “face 2 face” turns a handful of syllables into material for a human beat box.

Daniel Barbiero