Quatuor Ebene

With Stacey Kent, Bernard Lavilliers


3 stars

Here it is, your beach listening. Quatuor Ebene – “ebene” means “ebony” – was in Buffalo just a few months ago under the aegis of the Buffalo Chamber Music Society, playing Bartok and Haydn. At the time I noted that the New York Times had praised them as “a string quartet that can easily morph into a jazz band.” And sure enough, here they have.

Actually, I would almost say lounge band, a compliment in my book. This is the kind of cabaret sound that could make you think of Buffalo’s Them Jazzbeards. They have two great singers for their laid-back purposes: breathy chanteuse Stacey Kent and French Latin singer Bernard Lavilliers. Kent croons through a half dozen songs including Stevie Wonder’s “I Can’t Help It”; the standard “Smile” and “Fragile,” which is punctuated by New Age rain sounds (probably someone drumming softly on the wood of a violin). Wayne Shorter’s “Ana Maria” gets a classical treatment from the quartet. A chorus and string orchestra are heard from briefly, in the concluding “Brazil.”

The whole project is cheerily out there, a gift for people who like to bend genres. It has its lulls, shall we say, but all the arrangements are by Quatuor Ebene, and they’re very creative. In “The Ice Hotel,” Kent is backed by pizzicato, and a sleepy, familiar “So Nice” begins with the tender “Lady Bird,” played as if it had been written by Haydn. In a cool twist, there are texts, but no translations.

– Mary Kunz Goldman