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GnuQuartet - 2014 - "Karma"

(30:15, ‘Artist First’)


1.  Peaches En Regalia 3:16
2.  Roundabout 8:28
3.  The Great Gig in the Sky 4:35
4.  Stereotaxis 9:19
5.  Hairless Heart 2:37
6.  Concerto Grosso-I 2:00


Francesca Rapetti – flute; beatbox 
Raffaele Rebaudengo – viola 
Stefano Cabrera – cello 
Roberto Izzo – violin 
Andrea Maddalone – guitars 
Durga McBroom – vocals 

Prolusion. The Italian ensemble GNUQUARTET has been around since 2006, and is a seasoned live unit with hundreds of concerts to their name and an established recording unit that so far has released four studio productions. "Karma" is the most recent of those, released back in 2014.

Analysis. I have the more or less representative understanding that "Karma" is a mini-album. released in between albums by this ensemble, consisting mainly of cover material, but also with one original creation by the band that, at least when this CD was released, was described as a track from their forthcoming album. One might wonder just how interesting a mini-album consisting mainly of cover versions actually is, but in this case I'd say it is a more than intriguing experience, due to the manner in which the songs are covered. While GnuQuartet has a take on many well-regarded classics from the progressive rock universe, the manner in which they cover these classic compositions is rather unusual. GnuQuartet is what one might describe as a chamber quartet, with three string instruments and a fourth member, who alternates between using flute and beatbox, and with that instrumentation at hand the end result of just about any rock-based song covered will be one rather far removed from the original. While this is a chamber quartet, the manner in which they have chosen to use their instruments is one that makes this group sound like a rather more populated orchestra, and both Peaches En Regalia and Roundabout come across as vibrant, dramatic compositions of a symphonic classical music orientation. Powerful, forceful and unrestrained performances, with subtly gentler interludes featuring more elegant, gliding textures in between the more striking passages. Beautiful and engaging material to my ears, and whether you'd want to describe these as chamber music or classical symphonic music is up to the individual listener. My perception is that both of them might apply. Pink Floyd's The Great Gig in the Sky comes across as a rather different creation, slow-paced and atmospheric, darker in tone and with much more of a majestic expression, emphasized by the non-verbal, powerful vocals of guest singer Durga McBroom. Genesis' Hairless Heart is probably the one closest to what many would associate with chamber music: light, elegant and with a pastoral touch, while the more dramatic Concert Grosso-I is a darker and more chaotic construction that I found much harder to place in a defined context, as well as a cut harder to enjoy, as a matter of fact. GnuQuartet's original composition Stereotaxis mainly combines features from the opening three cover tunes, with a focus on dramatic and majestic passages, a forceful creation with gentler, elegant interludes and transitions that, as with the opening cuts of this mini album, resides somewhere in the borderland between chamber music and classical symphonic orchestra music.

Conclusion. Chamber quartets can be expressive, adventurous and creative units, and GnuQuartet is one of many such ensembles that firmly document just how engaging and powerful music that can be performed by four musicians armed with cello, viola, violin and flute respectively. The use of the beatbox adds a charming contemporary detail to the music explored, and guest vocalist Durga McBroom, in particular, also showcases the expanded possibilities such a quartet has when adding vocals to the mix. An excellent mini-album by a quality band, and one well worth to check out if you have an affection for classical symphonic music in particular.

OMB=Olav M Bjornsen: October 16, 2015
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