Anyone interested in the offbeat by way of new music, not to mention the pleasures afforded by the string quintet – that’s a string quartet plus double bass for extra heft down below – should look no further than Outliers, the smart as a fox latest release from the fabulously-christened Sybarite5. Not only are they one of the few dedicated quintet line-ups out there, over the past 12 years they have almost single-handedly rejuvenated the repertoire, commissioning new works at a rate of half a dozen per annum, from some of the most interesting voices on the US contemporary music scene.
If you’ve heard their imaginatively reworked Radiohead album, you’ll know that musically speaking they like to inhabit the centre ground between acerbic and sweet; accessible and deep; and between current hip and soon-to-be hip. Ten composers have contributed to Outliers, yet there’s a cohesion to the album thanks to a common aesthetic and some judicious programming. The opener, Jessica Meyer’s hectic Getting Home (I must be…) sets the tone. Beginning with racing fiddles, the ensemble gradually fattens to incorporate the full quintet just before the finish line, all the while displaying laser beam intonation, an ear for musical storytelling and an instinct for finding the right groove. Yann’s Flight by bassist Shawn Conley opens up to include toe-tapping syncopations, while cellist-cum-composer Eric Byers contributes a pair of attractively funky tracks – the minimalist-influenced Pop Rocks and a ruminative Sarabande that drags Marin Marais into the 21st century.
Many of the composers are string players themselves and it shows as craft goes hand in hand with invention. Dan Visconti’s bluesy Hitchhiker’s Tales is a standout, continuing the composer’s interest in the roots of American music in a wildly imaginative road trip through the Deep South full of plucked strings, bent notes and infectious energy. Sybarite5 takes challenging works like Andy Akiho’s jazz-flecked Revolve in their stride, while proving equally at home basking in the reflective ruminations of Mohammed Fairouz’s haunting Muqqadamah. There’s wit – try Kenji Bunch’s addictive pizzicato Allemande pour Tout le Monde – and world music via Daniel Bernard Roumain’s Foday Musa Suso-infused Kompa for Toussaint. The album ends with a couple of refracted baroque dances: Michi Wiancko’s winsome Blue Bourée and Gi-gue-ly, a hypnotic Bartók-esque jig from Russian-American violist and Silk Road regular Ljova (aka Lev Zhurbin).
Sybarite5 are Sami Merdinian and Sarah Whitney, violins; Angela Pickett, viola; Laura Metcalf, cello; and Louis Levitt, bass. The disc is available from Amazon, iTunes or the groups own website. Be there, or be square, as they say.