As an ensemble, their sound is gentle and even delicate, given the lack of horns and the relatively minimal use of a drum kit, but they still emphasize groove.
Chordophones stays on the path that the quartet took with The Missing Link, making jazz arrangements out of European folk music and other world music traditions. Vanbuel, who composed eight of the nine tracks and directed the ensemble, holds a strong interest in Balkan folk and gypsy music, influences that trickle into this recording from all ends.
But Chordophones is not world-beat as much as it is jazz infused with classical sensibility and spiritual drive. A prime example is the album opener, Sulukule, an homage to a historical gypsy settlement in Istanbul, which flows with hypnotic and seductive minor key melodies played on the violin and viola, buoyed by a pulsing, Latin-flavored groove by Vanbuel on bass and Wakaike on the tabla drums.
Vanbuel writes that the album title literally means “the sound of strings and chords” in the liner notes, which explains the lush string sections that adorn these recordings. A string quartet guides the shifting moods of Rahu, a beautiful suite co-written by Vanbuel and Waikaike. It begins slowly with a melancholic, tension-filled introduction that forms into a wistful melody and breaks into a Romani dance rhythm.
On Clockwise, a number with a strong Celtic folk flavor, the group is joined by guest flautist and singer-songwriter Paige Su (蘇珮卿), and Cody Byassee, who also plays percussion and drums on half of the album’s tracks. Su and Byassee, who both come from jazz and classical backgrounds, share Vanbuel’s eclectic tastes (they’re both long-time students of Indian classical music), as well as a penchant for borrowing from different musical traditions. Together they create a distinctive spark on this piece.
Vanbuel loves playing with odd rhythm meters, and Chordophones ends with a twist on a familiar number. The group serves up Duke Ellington’s Caravan in 15/4 time, a playful and fitting closing to an album.