One of the positive developments in jazz of the new millennium is the proliferation of string ensembles. Petros Klampanis’ Chroma, with four violins, two violas and two cellos, is an example of how creative jazz thinkers now incorporate string sections into their projects—as unique complexes of colors and textures, arrayed dynamically. Depending on whether the players in a given project are improvisers, strings can be interactive as well as dynamic. But even when (as on Chroma) the strings stay with notated parts, a talented composer-arranger like Klampanis can make them sound spontaneous, alive in the moment.
His own instrument is acoustic bass, on which he is an articulate, dramatic soloist. The other two solo voices here, pianist Shai Maestro and guitarist Gilad Hekselman, are also vivid. But on Chroma, individual moments are embedded within unified, complete sonic fabrics. The title track opens with two notes, first from Maestro and then the strings, cycled hypnotically. The melody is set into motion by Klampanis and the two percussionists, John Hadfield and Keita Ogawa. Maestro and Hekselman, in turn, make incursions into the softly seething strings, before the theme reappears to close the circle. “Tough Decisions” is also an organic blend. Maestro and Hekselman and the strings portray slightly varied aspects of the melody, and when Klampanis solos, he never fully separates himself from the ensemble.
Klampanis composes elegant forms like miniature sonatas, with multiple contrasting movements. Yet the strongest piece is by Hekselman; “Cosmic Patience” is seamless within the album’s atmosphere. It exemplifies the qualities that distinguish Chroma. It is a narrative in shifting colors, containing intense emotional revelations from Hekselman and Klampanis, all whispered over by the strings.
It is surprising that a work so ambitious and polished was not put together in a studio. It was recorded live in concert at the Onassis Cultural Center in New York.