Album of the week
Perhaps the funniest few seconds of "Serious Business," the new recording by Chicago's cutting-edge Spektral Quartet, is the entry of Franz Joseph Haydn's well-mannered String Quartet No. 2 (Opus 33) on the heels of David Reminick's decidedly ill-mannered "The Ancestral Mousetrap" (2014), in which the instrumentalists play and sing (sometimes in four-part harmony) an absurdist-macabre text by Russell Edson.
But, then, Haydn did subtitle his quartet "The Joke" (a reference to the several tongue-in-cheeky endings in the Presto finale), and everything about the Sono Luminus package (the CD comes with an audio DVD) is an intentional nudge in the listener's ribs — not so much laugh-out-loud funny as wickedly-droll funny.
The big piece on the disc, Chicago composer Chris Fischer-Lochhead's "Hack" (2015) is a suite in 22 sections — some as tiny as 9 or 10 seconds — made up of transcriptions of lines once uttered by 16 famed comedians ranging from Lenny Bruce to Robin Williams. Fischer-Lochhead's rude scrunches, swoops and sputters are cheerfully anarchic stuff; so is Sky Macklay's "Many Many Cadences" (2014), a twitchy mass of tonal cadences jammed atop one another. The performances and recording could hardly be better, and the cover art is a hoot.