Listening Room

06 Ryan Truesdell SynthesisSYNTHESIS: The String Quartet Sessions
Ryan Truesdell


Heart of Gold (comp Ryan Truesdell)

Talking for String Trio (comp Bob Brookmeyer)

Tilting World (comp Christine Jensen)


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I began this column writing about string quartet transcriptions for saxophones, and this latest arrival seems, in a way, to bring me full circle. Russell Truesdell Presents SYNTHESIS – The String Quartet Sessions ( is a mammoth project for which Truesdell invited 15 large ensemble jazz composers to write for the iconic classical string formation. Truesdell says the project grew out of the isolation of the pandemic. “I wanted to find a way to inspire and challenge large ensemble composers – myself included – at a time when we were feeling hopeless for the future of our artform [...] The idea for SYNTHESIS came from the knowledge that many jazz composers derive inspiration from the string quartet writing of composers like Bartok, Brahms, and Ravel, and the necessity of finding a realistic, yet inspiring way to create music together, safely, in person. [...] I wanted to hear my peers, whom I respect and whose music I love so much, create something new in this idiom.” The 3CD set has kept me enthralled throughout my first listening – it arrived as I was putting the finishing touches on this column, so I haven’t had time to properly immerse myself in it yet – and although there is simply too much material to deal with in detail, I wanted to share my enthusiasm with you. Truesdell gave the composers very few parameters in terms of length or style to guide them, and I was particularly taken with the range of approaches taken. While most of the works were composed specifically for this project, also included are a previously unrecorded work for string trio from 1990 by Bob Brookmeyer and a reworking of John Hollenbeck’s Grey Cottage, originally for solo violin, for quartet with the composer adding drums, marimba and piano. Most of the composers have chosen to stick within the traditional quartet formation of two violins, viola and cello, but several feature soloists within this context, including Christine Jensen whose lovely Tilting World features violin soloist Sara Caswell. Truesdell, who himself contributed three titles, adds Israeli-born clarinetist Anat Cohen for Suite for Clarinet and String Quartet and bassist Jay Anderson to the quartet in Heart of Gold (for Jody) which is a showcase for cellist Jody Redhage Ferber. To quote the press release: “SYNTHESIS challenges old perceptions of the traditional string quartet [...] exploring a new genre of music cultivated at the intersection of jazz, classical, world, and contemporary music.” It does so admirably.

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Author: David Olds
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