“Gossip Wolf is routinely bowled over by Chicago's Spektral Quartet—not only do these supreme string shredders totally rip it up, but they also chuck stereotypes about classical music right out the conservatory window! This month, Spektral fire up their 2019-2020 season, entitled "Totally Obsessed," which showcases a ludicrously wide range of creativity. On Wednesday, August 14, at Constellation, they perform a totally far-out piece from longtime collaborator LJ White that's based on the Shaggs' 1969 outre-rock classic "My Pal Foot Foot." On Friday, August 30, New Amsterdam Records drops the album Fanm d'Ayiti, where Spektral accompany Haitian American composer, flutist, and singer Nathalie Joachim in her suite of the same name; they play a release concert with Joachim (a member of Eighth Blackbird) at Black Ensemble Theater on Friday, September 13. On Thursday, November 14, they perform works by Shulamit Ran and Kotoka Suzuki as well as Enigma, a new commission from Anna Thorvaldsdottir, as part of their ongoing residency at the University of Chicago—and that's not even mentioning anything in 2020!”
“The audience went island-hopping around the world with the Spektral Quartet Saturday night, at the University of Chicago’s International House.
The event was a concert titled “Enchanted Islands: A Travelogue.” The chamber group performed Books I and II of Isolario: Book of Known Islands—a musical atlas of sorts composed by Christopher Trapani—with Book II receiving its world premiere.
This was preceded by Schubert’s “Rosamunde” quartet. (Rosamunde is set on Cyprus, you see.)
The Schubert performance was surprisingly light-footed even in the darkest passages. In the opening bars Clara Lyon (playing first violin) clipped the little phrases of the main theme short, exaggerating the rests between them. Then, when the theme returned in the major, Lyon lengthened the final notes, as if the melody had relaxed a bit—a quirky yet effective interpretive touch…”
“But Trapani is a superb craftsman. He wove together the analog and the electronic so seamlessly that it was hard to tell which sounds were coming from the quartet on stage, and which from the speakers.
This integration is a testament not only to Trapani’s skill in melding the two media, but also to Spektral’s precision of playing. “Kalymnos” from Book I included the din of dynamite blasts from an Easter celebration, with Spektral having to land their notes together with the explosions. “Baracoa” from Book II featured a recording of a mechanical organ, with which the quartet had to remain in tightly coordinated dialogue…”
“Much of the concert functioned like a study in contrasts. Often the quartet would lock into a tight and controlled pattern, almost hocket-like, providing a backdrop for Zenón to improvise fluid and athletic lines above, below, around and within the quartet’s music, the rigidity of the quartet starkly different from the saxophone line. At other times the contrasts would be sectional — at one moment all the musicians might be sawing out a line in fierce melodic and rhythmic unison (like in“Milagrosa,” which near its end was quite reminiscent of Messiaen’s famous “Dance of Fury” movement in “Quartet for the End of Time”), and in the next they might break out into a joyful and light latin-inflected groove, as if spontaneously.
One thing that felt like less of a contrast than might be thought, however, was the blending of different musical traditions. The juxtaposition of jazz and the seething string harmonies hardly felt like juxtaposition at all — the music’s disparate influences blended seamlessly together. Zenón’s smooth improvisation over the strings interwove easily with the textures, and at times members of the quartet matched this spontaneity of sound with improvisatory sections of their own, as Zenón confirmed to me when I asked him afterwards.
Zenón and Spektral Quartet together were fascinating together, and this type of concert is exactly the sort of programing that helps keep a contemporary arts organization alive and vibrant in the modern world.”
“Saxophonist Miguel Zenón is a big thinker — that much is clear from his recorded output, with its deep and inspiring connection to the folk traditions of his native Puerto Rico. But you also get that sense from his turn behind the Tiny Desk, where we can watch the concentration on his face and those of his adventurous band, the Spektral Quartet. This is life-affirming music with curious twists and turns, expertly performed by amazingly talented musicians.
There are two ways to marvel at the stunning unison playing that comes about three-quarters of the way through "Milagrosa." First, listen with your eyes closed. The notes cascade at a such a fast clip, it can leave you breathless. Now, watch with your eyes open: It's a joy to see Zenón and his band read the notes from the page, at times sneaking in visual cues with smiles just below the surface. It must be such a pleasure to make music like this.”
“On his 11th album as a solo artist, the splendid saxophonist Miguel Zenón fuses jazz, chamber-music and various idioms from his native Puerto Rico to create a sublime synthesis.”
“All of Zenón’s varied projects have seemed propelled by a singular quest, and with this magisterial chamber music outing the alto saxophonist grabs hold of the grail as never before. Becoming in effect a fifth member of the Spektral (string) Quartet, Zenón derives from the folkloric genres of his native Puerto Rico a strikingly individual musical hybrid, fluid and poetically expressive, yet unrelenting in its technical demands.”
”Miguel Zenon featuring Spektral Quartet: “Yo Soy La Tradicion” (Miel Music). In 2016, alto saxophonist and MacArthur Fellowship winner Zenon partnered with Chicago’s enterprising Spektral Quartet for the world premiere of his suite “Yo Soy La Tradicion” (“I Am Tradition”). Commissioned by the Hyde Park Jazz Festival, the piece wove the rhythms, cadences and song structures of Zenon’s native Puerto Rico into a sprawling work that intertwined classical, jazz, blues and folkloric vocabularies. By turns complex and accessible, historic and contemporary, “Yo Soy La Tradicion” represents a major contribution from composer Zenon, in an uncommonly sensitive collaboration with the Spektrals.”
“A CD debut concert at First Church of Boston on November 15th found the MacArthur-certified genius and Guggenheim Fellow Miguel Zenón alongside the magnificently flexible Spektral String Quartet, playing live, the music on his 11th ground-breaking album “Yo soy la tradiciòn.”
The group began the night with “Rosario,” ushered in by the cello’s low throaty pitch, reflective of a folksy, somewhat spiritual sounding church prelude. It is inspired by a Catholic Holy Rosary, traditionally played on folk instruments at funerals or other occasions. It is immediately interrupted with soulful, virtuosic alto saxophone lines. It beautifully juxtaposed 200-year-old classical music traditions and rule-bending modern jazz influences. Miguel Zenón and Spektral Quartet dove deep inside the musical/cultural history of Puerto Rico, but also looked towards Western music to uncover the wisdom behind the tradition. Tradition is, after all, nothing more than a “corpse of wisdom.” Miguel naturally challenges it with his exceedingly outgoing personality, extending it with his rich musical vocabulary of contemporary jazz. What is the point of a set-in-stone (musical) tradition if the wisdom behind it is not present anymore? It truly is a brave composition that connects The Catholic Church representing Holy Rosary’s musicalized order with a refreshing impressionistic texture, jagged rhythms, syncopated phrases and intense vibrancy that shines through Spektral’s musical delivery.”
“The saxophonist had written for string quartet before, but in preparing to work with the Chicago-based Spektral Quartet — Clara Lyon and Maeve Feinberg, violins; Doyle Armbrust, viola; Russell Rolen, cello — Zenón decided that he wanted true interaction between his alto and the quartet. “I wanted to feel [that I was] part of the ensemble,” he says. “I didn’t want this to be the kind of thing where the strings just play little [backgrounds] for me to play on top of. I also wanted to balance improvisation with what was written out.”
Yo Soy La Tradición was actually recorded as Hurricane Maria was battering the island nation. A year and a day later, Zenón held a release concert in Chicago on September 21, as a benefit for Chicago’s Hurricane Aid for Puerto Rican Arts. “That was the quartet’s idea,” he notes. “They saw me on the phone, trying to speak to my family, watching the news while we were making the record. They said, ‘We really want to do something.’”
“This beautifully constructed chamber set takes a different tack by complimenting Zenón’s dry tone, acute intellect and inner fire with the tonal subtleties of the Chicago-based Spektral Quartet. Zenón’s cool, rhythmically aware saxophone aesthetic is based on clean lines and obtuse harmonic angles and here they soar over, rummage in and merge with strings that draw on the full width of the contemporary classical canon.”