Composers: William Brittelle, Brandon Ridenour, Marc Mellits, Ehsan Matoori et al
Compositions: Future Shock, NuPac Kanon & Jig, Groove Machine et al
Catalogue Number: Bright Shiny Things BTSC-0131
Sybarite5 are Sami Merdinian and Sarah Whitney, violins; Angela Pickett, viola; Laura Metcalf, cello; and Louis Levitt, bass. The wonderfully monikered fivesome has emerged over the last 15 years as one of America’s hippest new music ensembles thanks to a series of smart commissions and eclectic recordings such as 2017’s uber-groovy Outliers. Their latest album showcases a host of new music for string quintet – in their case, a string quartet plus double bass – and proves that they’re just as good live.
The disc comes from concerts recorded on two occasions at New York’s Cell Theatre and comprises a diverse nine tracks by some of the group’s favourite composers as well as featuring a handful of guest artists. For those who fear a rowdy “live” audience-type affair, rest assured the listening is concentrated with appropriate applause in only one or two places.
North Carolina-born but Brooklyn-based William Brittelle’s Future Shock gets things fired up a treat in a seven-minute, genre-defying, hip-wriggling rhythmic feast powered by Shane Shanahan’s sharp-as-a-tack turn on percussion. It’s niftily paired with Brandon Ridenour’s witty NuPac Kanon & Jig, a warmly empathetic modernist take on Pachelbel’s famous theme that dissolves into a harmonically duplicitous Terpsichorean groove-fest. Ridenour is best known as a trumpeter, but this piece reveals him to be a composer of substance and clearly goes down a storm. Ditto Groove Machine by Marc Mellits (perhaps the most performed composer represented here) a Nymanesque gem and another funky toe-tapper with its roots seemingly in the Baroque.
Iranian composer and instrumentalist Ehsan Matoori is a fixture on the world music circuit. He adds the distinctive sound of his santoor (a trapezoid-shaped hammered dulcimer, a bit like a high-pitched cimbalom) to a pair of tracks: the alternately moody and upbeat Tehran When Lonely and the whirligig Naqsh-e Jahan.
Star Globe, with music by Michael Dellaira, sets a poem by Nancy Manocharian. It’s sung here a trifle strenuously by Blythe Gaissert. More rewarding is Traveler 65 by Boston-based composer Steven Snowden, a thorny work, tightly delivered by the quintet, that provides a welcome pause for thought among the boppier tracks.
To round things out there’s a thoroughly idiomatic jazz arrangement of John Coltrane’s Alabama (again with Shanahan on percussion) and the superbly intricate, deeply meditative My Desert, My Rose by New York-based Serbian composer Aleksandra Vrebalov. Originally commissioned by Kronos Quartet, Sybarite5 prove equally committed interpreters, spinning Vrebalov’s cumulative rhythmic patterns towards a grindingly passionate and definite conclusion. The encore is Steve Metcalf’s arrangement of Pete Seeger’s Where Have All the Flowers Gone, a mournful add-on that felt plaintively appropriate in March 2020 in a way that it might not have back in June 2019.