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Curiosity 46:10 $17.98
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A string quartet doesn’t necessarily need to be stuck in the chamber music of past centuries. Outstanding ensembles like the Turtle Island String or Kronos have long proven that. The Kaleidoscope String Quartet (KSQ) transcends the classical format into new dimensions equally determinedly as the named “trailblazers”, but in a completely different way. On their second album Curiosity the Swiss musicians captivate with charismatic original compositions and distinctive sound. KSQ confidently leave genre boundaries behind and change between elegance, grand air and unpretentious spirit. “The idea is to integrate the different styles that have influenced us, into our own voice,” Simon Heggendorn explains. “We compose more from the perspective of the musician and the audience and don’t raise the claim to be avant-garde.”

When the Kaleidoscope String Quartet was founded in 2009, the musicians were only in their mid to late twenties. A major production, where the string players impressed as partners of a jazz quintet, provided the occasion. At that time - still with a partly different line-up - they decided to “get something going on their own.” In 2011 their debut album Magenta was released and Europe-wide shows and a lot of praise from the press followed. In 2012 the ensemble was awarded the ZKB Jazz-Prize, about which the Tagesanzeiger Zürich jubilated: “Never before has there been a winner, who has scored this prize with such souplesse [= litheness. Author’s note].

The special character of the KSQ is based on a musical openness. According to the main composer Heggendorn, this already presented itself in all involved musicians during college. “To us, it is about living the interaction, spontaneity and improvisation musically,” the violinist implies a differentiation from classical music colleagues, “whereupon we also play with the sound possibilities a string quartet has to offer.” The title of the current album, Curiosity, could not be more fitting, because the music of the KSQ signalizes inquisitiveness for a musical ground that has been little explored so far. “The current pieces are more personal, the compositions have gained musical depth and overall they are perhaps a bit quieter than on Magenta,” Simon Heggendorn describes the development. “David Schnee contributed two pieces, which of course brings in additional facets. Besides, we have a much higher level in general, because we have played around 70 concerts since Magenta.”

Precisely because the four players outstandingly master their instruments, they enjoy flirting with a certain risk and place their emphasis on courage instead of perfectionism. They have banned all sheet music and the appendant music stands from stage for example. Even the recordings sound unusually lively and play with airiness and attention to detail, with transparency and densification. “The aspects of groove and rhythmic drive are very important to us,” Heggendorn describes the bands priorities, “virtuosity is not our primary objective, although it can flash up in solos.” Almost all pieces leave room for solo-improvisation and when playing live, the acoustic panorama is occasionally broadened by ad hoc created noises and atmospheric soundscapes. In some passages familiar harmonies and melodies seem to drift by, but don’t manifest themselves and rather remain a diffuse anticipation. The meandering between imaginary memories and unexpected effects is seducing. To the question, how they get their partly associative ideas, the two composers answer surprisingly differently: “Quite consciously,” David Schnee explains and Simon Heggendorn says: “very intuitively.”

The stylistic range of the Kaleidoscope Sting Quartet is courageous, because the musicians do not think about possible categories or strategies when composing and playing. “We just see it as a chance to be able to develop something unique and independent,” says Simon Heggendorn. Plenty of successful concerts with thrilled audiences affirm this undogmatic attitude. Classical music, jazz and open-minded pop listeners are enthralled by the unconventional and fresh charisma of these musicians; and should a few purists or traditionalists raise their eyebrows with irritation, the KSQ ungrudgingly accept this.

By the way, so that there are no misunderstandings: the landscape shot on the album cover does not bow to the confederate homeland. The panorama rather illustrates that spatial vastness, which also characterizes the sound of the Kaleidoscope String Quartet.