7 Hertz: Tender Almost Vulgar

Amazingly, the material on the Leeds-based chamber quartet 7 Hertz's Tender, Almost Vulgar was born fully and spontaneously from improvisation. Recorded in St. Marks Church, Leeds, the group's debut full-length is an ear-catching mix of classical music, jazz, European folk, and whatever other macabre form strikes the players' fancy at a given moment. What's most appealing is that all such influences have been fully absorbed into the group's playing and, consequently, elements of all flow organically out a given piece. Though the instrumentation is thoroughly classical (primarily violin, clarinet, and double bass though mandolin, accordion, trombone trumpet, glockenspiel, French horn, bassoon, and cello appear also), Tender, Almost Vulgar is no humourless, po-faced exercise (in fact, the group characterizes its music as a “right old racket”).

That irreverent spirit is conveyed detail immediately by the opener “Chicken of the Woods,” a slinky bit of woozy nacht music that's as much about Klezmer as anything else, especially when the clarinet twists and turns over the woozy string melodies. The sinuous “Blacka Moor,” elegiac “Wisniowka,” and funereal “Centrifuge” show that 7 Hertz can play it straight too when the mood strikes, and beautifully at that. Here and elsewhere, the simpatico interplay between violin, clarinet, and double bass is a pleasure to behold. Mixing things up, the bluesy “Of Sari” also features a vocal performance that's not only credible but verges on seductive, while the folk chant “Seasick Suite” manages to stay upright despite the presence of tempestuous waters. That the group cites influences as diverse as Stravinsky, Mingus, Dolphy, Satie, Tom Waits, Messiaen, Henry Threadgill, and Dave Douglas is telling, as traces of each can be detected without one having to look too hard to find them. Think of 7 Hertz as a fresh and free-thinking classical quartet possessed by the kind of rebellious jazz spirit we sadly don't get enough of these days.

January 2008