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At the top of this disc, you hear the enormous, singing sound of Rufus Reid’s bass, a known quantity after his six-decade career backing legacy giants and leading his own bands. But you may not expect what comes next — the translucent splendor of strings courtesy of the Sirius Quartet, and then solos from violinist Gregor Huebner and cellist Jeremy Harmon (sandwiched between Steve Allee’s lustrous piano and Duduka da Fonseca’s galvanic drum breaks).
Sirius belongs to the rare breed of string ensemble whose members improvise fluently. The quartet appears on six of the album’s 11 tracks — they alternate with Reid’s stand-alone trio — to gloriously interpret the bassist’s rangy command of this format. The strings pinpoint the pizzicato counterpart that introduces Reid’s “This I Ask of You,” then soar on the yearning theme. On a back-catalog Reid tune, “Celestial Dance,” he expertly exploits the textural variety hidden in the string quartet’s instrumentation, as well as the idiosyncratic effects available to the players. (Victor Feldman’s “Falling in Love” offers another such standout.) Reid handled the string writing on four of the tracks; Allee wrote and arranged two others, including the large-form, serial-inspired finale, “The Rise of the Row.” A beguiling colorist and top-drawer improviser, Allee makes himself a vital part of the unimpeachable trio at this album’s heart.
Jazz artists have employed strings for more than 75 years, boosted at first by Charlie Parker’s orchestral recordings and then by albums that used large orchestras to swaddle and sweeten. But jazz composers — especially those like Reid, with impeccable classical cred — have steadily integrated string ensembles into the music as a whole, creating swinging sonata-like hybrids such as this. Strictly speaking, it’s not a “new” recording, in that all but two of the tracks appeared in 2017 on a limited-edition, vinyl-only Newvelle Records release. The restricted reach of that label prevented many from hearing this splendid collaboration; listening to it now, still fresh as a daisy, confirms the music’s vision and strength. — Neil Tesser