Like Frank Zappa before him, Bryce Dessner is equally at home composing rock or modern classical. He is mostly known for his guitar playing in melancholy Americana merchants The National, but, since his days studying music at Yale, he has always alternated between musical worlds. This album presents his collaborations with Kronos Quartet, with whom he has been working since 2009.

The title track is a spirited celebration of Dessner’s Jewish ancestry (the word ‘Aheym’ means ‘homeward’ in Yiddish). It begins with a blood-surging rhythm that gradually breaks up and complicates before more delicate tones emerge. The strings then duck and weave around each other, gradually building in urgency, although never achieving the breathlessness of the opening bars. ‘Little Blue Something’ is dedicated to two Czechoslovakian folk musicians and is more reflective, until a sudden blossoming of melodrama at the conclusion.

‘Tenebre’ is a tender subversion of a traditional Easter service in which gathering darkness evokes the death of Christ. Dessner reverses this progress, moving from dark to light. This long, complex work begins moodily, the sorrowful strings swelling into staccato rhythm. The interweaving of the players becomes playful and then a touch psychotic, before the multilayered vocals of Sufjan Stevens infiltrate and urge the music to its invigorating conclusion.

The least successful track for me is the final one, ‘Tour Eiffel’. This is the only piece not written specifically for Kronos, having been commissioned by the Brooklyn Youth Chorus. The Quartet takes a back seat as choir, piano and percussion predominate. Perhaps because I listened to this track just before Christmas – a time when I desperately try to avoid choral music – it struck a sour note. Bah humbug.

This is another impressive entry in the burgeoning and varied discography of Kronos Quartet. It’s not as immediately accessible as their Bollywood album You’ve Stolen My Heart, but doesn’t require the concentration of their nervy interpretations of Alfred Schnittke. As a celebration of multicultural America, it continues their commitment to producing music that blends the emotional with the political.
Follow The Dwarf on Facebook

Comments ()