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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 John 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. --Robert Levine
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Mary Rowell, the cello player, embodies the Jackie du Pré school of performance (as seen in the movie "Hilary and Jackie"); they all do, actually, with full-body performances that allow them to inject energy and vitality into their fusion-influenced sounds.
They're doing for classical what Gram Parsons did for country music: bringing in a rock-and-roll sensibility that reinvigorates both genres.
This music is one of the nicest surprises I have come across in a while.