Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Afiara Quartet and Skratch Bastid – Spin Cycle

Afiara Quartet and Skratch Bastid – Spin Cycle (Centrediscs)

If you only listen to one collaboration between a string quartet and a hip-hop DJ collab this year—this is the one.

This young Toronto string quartet commissioned four composers to write new pieces for them, which they recorded and then handed over to turntablist Skratch Bastid (Buck 65, Shad) to remix; the musicians then went back to the composers to add more material responding to the remix, furthering the musical conversation.

The idea sounds like it’s better suited for an arts grant proposal than a record you’d actually want to listen to. But this works. The composers and the players here aren’t looking to write music for the 18th century: this is modern work for modern players, whose often-percussive style suits the transformation to hip-hop perfectly, and their playing struts and swaggers.

String quartets have an inherently nimble nature that all small ensembles do, which makes their work easier to isolate and pull apart—especially if you’re doing so with their complete participation. Skratch Bastid will take an eight-bar riff and loop it, then take the violin line and make it sing in new ways with pitch shifting, while bringing in sampled drums and keyboards and anything else he likes.

Obviously the remixes are the real draw here, but the original works—by Dinuk Wijeratne, Laura Silberberg, Rob Teehan and Kevin Lau—stand entirely on their own merit, and not just as remix fodder. It’s there that Afiara shows off their subtle and dynamic side, where they prove that they’re not just brash players who secretly want to be in a rock band. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Oil and water? Nothing a little emulsification can’t fix.

Afiara Quartet and Skratch Bastid will be playing this material at Toronto’s Koerner Hall on Saturday, May 23 (upgraded from a smaller venue), and they’ll be accompanied by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra as part of the New Creations Festival at Roy Thomson Hall on March 5, 2016.

Download: “A Letter from the After-life,” “Skratch My Bach,” “Dirty Laundry, Heavy Load”

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