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Kile Smith Suggests: THRUM, the Minneapolis Guitar Quartet

From the opening moments of its recent CD Thrum, the Minneapolis Guitar Quartet throws its cards on the table. Attitude and refined sound are the driving forces here. Even the first percussive beats that herald the strut through Harlem—the first movement of Daniel Bernard Roumain’s Ghetto Strings—are nuanced, a combination of tap, stroke, and pound. This is delicious playing.

Roumain’s work travels through places he’s lived and visited. The streets of Harlem, Detroit, South Florida’s Liberty City, and Haiti jostle and hum in this pop-influenced, attractive suite. Ghetto Strings is celebratory yet wistful, a yearning matched by the thoughtful performance.

If there is such a thing as a non-specific program, David Evan Thomas suggests one in Thrum. He writes about finding a box of papers in an attic, a stroll in a garden, a philosophy lesson. But behind its three contented movements, Thrum is a welter of magnanimous sonic gifts to the guitars.

Van Stiefel, Associate Professor of Theory at West Chester University and a guitarist, approaches the arms-wide-open Cinema Castaneda from within the instrument. What a hoot this is, but then you catch yourself. He envisions cowboy songs, The Velvet Underground, and Chuck Berry, but the music—even the singing—evolves out of the hope and violence, he says, mixed together on the border of the U.S. and Mexico. This fascinates.

A culture of yet another kind wafts in on the talents of Gao Hong. She is one of the foremost performers on the pipa, the Chinese lute, and Guangxi Impression combines her artistry on that instrument with the guitar quartet. Through Tiaodan Dance, Summer Cicada, and Celebrating the Harvest, the string instrument cousins dip together and whirl.

Throughout Guangxi Impression and the entire CD of Thrum, the Minneapolis Guitar Quartet offers a luscious introduction to these four composers, their affable work, and to balanced and tasteful playing—with attitude.

Minneapolis Guitar QuartetThrum (Innova 858)
Works by Daniel Bernard Roumain, David Evan Thomas, Van Stiefel, Gao Hong