Issue 45 - Vol.4, No.9
News & Views : January 2003

View From the East: Pieces of the Elephant
By Greg Sandow
© 2003 NewMusicBox

On to the CDs.

1. Invert

Invert is a New York-based string quartet, with two cellos instead of two violins. I met one of its cellists at a concert; he sent me the CD, named after the group; I liked it. These are people with both pop and classical backgrounds, not to mention jazz and world music. They've played at Galapagos and The Knitting Factory, and backed the rock group Guided By Voices on a CD.

One thing I like is that three of them write the group's music. That's a good inspiration for classical performers. There's too much mystique about composing. Rock and jazz musicians routinely compose. Why shouldn't classical players?

And these people compose nicely. There's always something simple going on-like scales in contrary motion, on the first and shortest track, "Machine" (by one of the cellists, Chris George). The scales are part of a musical landscape that includes syncopations, a neatly curving melody, and happy swoops upward in the violins. The scales grow out of the syncopations and melody, and they end the piece, left naked when rhythm under them drops out. There's nothing to these scales, and yet they sound modestly perfect. They stop short of what you'd think was going to be their final note, a deft touch, and also a conceptual echo of the first melodic phrases, which also end one note short of what you think will be their destination. The note these phrases end on is prolonged, which underlines how perfectly "not right" it is. (Not right in the best sense, of course.)

Though certainly these fine points wouldn't mean anything if the music weren't so attractive. Melodies swing by with an easy familiarity, making themselves right at home in part because they really do sound familiar, but not so familiar that they're obvious. One great virtue of this music is that it's never too easy. (Like-shudder-the horrors on the latest CD from the pop- tart string quartet Bond, in which four British women, made over so they barely look human, play empty junk over bad dance beats.) You can hear Invert yourself on their engaging website, where of course you can also buy the CD.
New Music Box
Greg Sandow