"Ethel is the name of a new quartet of string players devoted, for the most part, to performing music by their contemporaries; in a way, they're very much like the Kronos. Their absorption in music of all kinds gives them a wonderful edge. They run the gamut, professionally, from being in the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and Steve Reich Ensemble to backing up The Who's Roger Daltrey and Sheryl Crow. On their debut album, we hear John King's "Sweet Hardwood," which is deeply rooted in blues and is played with great, gutsy, feeling; a four-movement piece by Phil Kline that is in minimalist tradition and whose rhythms are infectious; a strange, brief work ("uh...it all happened so fast") by one of their violinists, Todd Reynolds, which begins down, dark and cavernously in the low strings and develops with great vibrancy; and Evan Ziporyn's 1991 "Be-in," in which they're joined by Ziporyn on bass clarinet (its lyrical chugging manages to be both reassuring and jittery at once). When it's over, you want to hear it again. The music and performances on this CD are both earthy and poetic and worth listening to often."
"Ethel was as fresh and direct as crowds dancing in the street"
-Wall Street Journal, 5/21/2003
"Now that it has dazzled critics and hipsters around New York, Ethel is poised to bring its downtown, genre-bending sensibilities to a larger audience."
About the Music
About Sweet Hardwood
Sweet Hardwood is a three movement concert version of a piece I wrote for the Pennsylvania Ballet called "Collegno" choreographed by Devin O'day. Ethel played different movements of that six-movement work, and we talked about what parts made the most sense, what order suited the music best, etc. So these three movements ("Hardwood," "Spiritual," "Shuffle") were what we all agreed on. This music is all blues-based, with the form, harmony, and improvisational direction coming out of delta/Chicago blues, albeit expanded and developed in different ways. But the energy (which Ethel captures so beautifully) comes out of that deep American music tradition. The way the music is written always keeps my original structures intact but allows Ethel to take vastly different approaches to the improv sections from performance to performance. Each time I've heard them perform this piece it's always a new, exciting, wild, and surprising ride.
- John King
About "Uh...It Happened So Fast"
'uh...' itself was written mostly on a train to Boston and came out in one sitting. Its title refers to a sense of "flow" - that quality of being where you can lose yourself in the joy of what you're doing so much that work becomes play - and the result, though already rendered less important by the act itself, ends up feeling like and actually being a more honest expression than you possibly could have imagined.
In looking back over the last four years, I realize that flexibility and "flow" have been the focus of all my work. It's the idea of writing music which is modular; movements or material which can be yanked and moved and prodded and placed with other movements and material.
That's the thing that's been on my mind, both in creating performance formats and compositions. These five pieces can be performed in different groupings or by themselves, slower, faster, with different background tracks, even by string orchestra if desired. The newest four movements are inspired by "uh...," and all five are very personal reflections on my various spiritual and relational quests. Offered in the name of peace.
(For more on "flow," read Flow - The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihali.
In this era of recalcitrant 60s radicals, it feels all the more necessary to admit that my earliest goal in life - formulated during a 1968 trip to San Francisco with my parents - was to be a hippie. Subsequent visits to my aunt's Ann Arbor commune only confirmed this aspiration, which was only later replaced by the marginally more respectable goal of composition. That being said, it's clear to me that almost everything I've done that's been worth doing musically...was made possible by the period. Among other things, everyone who was anyone was reaching out to non-western music - not just Stockhausen and the Beatles but also such cultural luminaries as B.J. Thomas and the Partridge Family, who were using sitars and tablas in their music. Much of my work is built around the anomalies and contradictions of cross-cultural exchange, but this piece attempts to pretend there are no such problems. It combines gestures from a variety of genres as if all that were needed to make them get along were good will and positive energy. Would that it were so...
For more information on the performers and composers please visit the artist pages for Ethel, Todd Reynolds, Phil Kline and Evan Ziporyn.