Quartet San Francisco

Classical Meets Tango in a String Thing

by Donald V. Adderton, Herald News/North Jersey Media Group

It can become a remarkable musical experience when the tangy flavor of the tango is unabashedly mixed with classical strings. The concoction is simply delicious.

The musical excursion embarked on by Quartet San Francisco on “Latigo” (ViolinJazz Recordings) provides ample creative energy and verve, which immediately stimulates a craving for more.

This is classical chamber music filled with so much Latin panache that it delivers a robust rhythmical bouquet. Quartet San Francisco, which consists of Jeremy Cohen, Emily Onderdonk and Kayo Miki on violins, Joel Cohen on cello and John Santos on percussion, has taken classical music and added the flair of the pampas.

In other words, this is classical with swing.

Jeremy Cohen, who created the group in 2001, said he was inspired by the human mosaic of Argentina, and the quartet reflects that influence. Under his lead, the group also has jazz over- and undertones, filled with stirring string solos.

“Breaking stereotypes about string music has been a real motivation for this ensemble,” says Cohen, who produced and arranged the date, “and we’re gratified that our audiences are right there with us.”

Having trained under violinist Itzhak Perlman, Cohen has classical roots, but maintains outstanding jazz chops. He has recorded with the likes of Ray Charles, Linda Ronstadt, Cleo Laine, Carlos Santana and Aaron Neville.

Nominated for two Grammy awards this year for “Latigo,” the ensemble brings a refreshing approach to classical music and the provocative tango. It is so easy to envision couples whirling around the dance floor to their music in perfect sync.

One example is the quartet’s string treatment of “Felipe,” a Brazilian choro with tango tastes sprinkled here and there, augmented with percussive bridges that back a superb cello solo by Joel Cohen.

The mood runs from melancholy and morose to gay and fancy free. On “Melodia en La Menor,” the ensemble takes on a somber but nonetheless calming tone, as each player paints a picture of spiritual reflection.

Now if it is the tango and nothing but the tango you desire, “Libertango” serves up the inspiration to leap to the dance floor with a rose stem firmly clenched in teeth, to whirl the night away. The quartet is in superb lockstep, with each player filling a role but never overstepping the context of the composition.

If the tango is not enough, the quartet effortlessly tackles Chick Corea’s “Armando’s Rhumba” and gives this classic new flair and pizzazz with a piercing string arrangement. You can feel the absolute joy from the players.

But it is hard to stray too far from the tango flavor as the ensemble delves into “Taquito Militar” and captures the festive pulse of the Buenos Aires atmosphere. What makes this treatment so attention-getting is the musical repartee engaged in by the players.

If there is a downside, it is that this West Coast-based group doesn’t come east too much, but it is scheduled to perform in the metropolitan area on Feb. 25 in Merrick-Bellmore, N.Y. To learn more about Quartet San Francisco point your browser to www.quartetsanfrancisco.com.

Even if classical chamber music is not your particular groove, Quartet San Francisco disintegrates the traditional mold and creates a brand new crucible that is pleasing to the ear. One listen and it is quite apparent that a musical marriage has been consummated.