New from Cedille: Eighth Blackbird’s ‘Filaments,’ Avalon String Quartet’s ‘Illuminations’

Cedille Records has become a local treasure in its ceaseless quest to document the burgeoning Chicago music scene, as evidenced by this pair of fine new CDs.

Dust jacket images courtesy Cedille Records.

CHICAGO, Oct. 29, 2015 –Cedille Records has pulled off a difficult trick in the small niche market that is classical music today: focusing exclusively on a single local music scene while simultaneously gaining international acclaim for its efforts. In the process it has become a local treasure in its ceaseless quest to document the burgeoning Chicago music scene.

The two newest releases from Cedille highlight the rising star known as the Avalon String Quartet, along with the latest release from the new music supergroup, Eighth Blackbird. Both are gorgeous recordings teeming with vital energy and creative verve. Perusing each for the first time, one is continuously reminded as to why 8bb has proved such a boon to both the Cedille label and the Chicago music scene.

We begin today by discussing the Avalon String Quartet’s “Illuminations,” featuring the eponymously subtitled Fourth String Quartet composed by the exciting young composer, Stacey Garrop. While Garrop’s work offers a high level of quality in its own right, her evocative subtitles for this composition’s nine short movements truly add to the impressionistic scope of the piece. Garrop’s iconic subtitle keywords transfer naturally into sound, while her music’s wilder moments somehow mystically channel memories of more ecstatic medieval religious experiences.

Avalon’s performance of the early Debussy String Quartet in G minor, Op. 10, reminds us that the famous French impressionist was once engaged in a far more angular and Germanic musical language. This interesting work is as arresting as it is surprising, with both impressions underscored the Avalon Quartet’s incisive performance.

The disk concludes with Osvaldo Golijov’s lovely “Tenebrae,” performed by the Avalon Quartet with the same luminous reverence initially demonstrated in Garrop’s “Illuminations.” Both works make a strong programmatic and spiritual match.

After encountering mixed results from a few more esoteric programming choices, Eighth Blackbird’s latest recording, “Filaments,” sees this ensemble returning to the fine form it demonstrated on their seminal “Beginnings” album (2004). The new recording begins with Bryce Dessner’s “Murder Ballades,” a classic example of this composer’s rhythmically exciting and thematically irreverent works.

An unexpected but surprisingly effective addition to this disk is two short electronic works by Son Lux. The composer’s brief contributions consist of digital reworkings of recorded material drawn from the other works on this very same album.

While that concept may seem dubious to some, we have a clear precedent for this in the iPod and other “mashups” that evolved in the pop music world over the last decade or so. The results obtained by Son Lux are arresting while at the same time serving as fitting companions or “bridges” to the longer works on the CD.

Perhaps the highlight of this CD, however, is the ensemble’s recording of a razor-tight live performance of Phillip Glass’s “Two Pages,” in which composers Bryce Dessner and Nico Muhly join the ensemble at the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art.

Taken together, these two CDs make a fitting pair, as it was the early trailblazing of 8bb which opened the door to the many fine new music acts that now call Chicago home. Cedille should benefit from having this pair of adventurous recordings available, extending the intriguing choices already inhabiting their exciting catalog.

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