The Real Vocal String Quartet is set on expanding the parameters of classical string music. Group founder violinist and vocalist Irene Sazer was an original member of the Turtle Island String Quartet, the jazzy pioneering newgrass and world fusion band. Sazer and the other members of Real Vocal String Quartet — Alisa Rosem, violin; Dina Maccabee, viola; and Jessica Ivry, cello — were all classically trained, but they’re intent on playing music that breaks down the parameters of the string quartet.
On Ayub Ogada’s “Kothbiro,” a song about herding cattle in the rain, the plucked strings of the violins mimic the sound of the nyatiti, a Kenyan harp. The dark textures of the viola, the group’s four-part harmonies, and Tobias Robertson’s percussion add to the mood. “Talking Drum Talking String” does exactly what you’d expect; the women pound the bodies of the violins and pluck the strings to produce a talking drum-like sound, complementing a bluegrassy, Appalachian-influenced melody. “Kitchen Girls” is a folk song played in a manner that suggests heavy rock riffing and mountain fiddling with Ivry’s thumping cello holding down the bass line. Sazar’s “Darling” is a beautiful love song with a simple folklike lyric that’s balanced by the group’s lush harmonies and emotive string work.
The quartet shows off its vocal work on the aptly named “Chorale,” a baroque melody by Sazer that moves from a beautiful string arrangement to a sumptuous interlude of intertwined vocal harmonies. (Flower Note)