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Sarah Bernstein: Veer Quartet (New Focus)

A review of the debut album from the violinist-led group

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Sarah Bernstein: Veer Quartet (New Focus)
The cover of Veer Quartet by Sarah Bernstein

Violinist Sarah Bernstein has worked in musical situations ranging from synth-pop and electronica to more straightforward jazz and free improvisation, sometimes incorporating spoken word along with instrumental work. Veer Quartet places her in more of a chamber music setting, which she gives a pronounced twist.

The quartet of Bernstein, Sana Nagano (violin), Leonor Falcon (viola), and Nick Jozwiak (cello) alternate between through-composed music and pieces that leave room for improvisation. Sometimes both approaches come within one track, like “News Cycle Progression,” which begins with a weighty, alluring melody that shifts into a section built of spry, plucked lines from all four strings. At other times, the distinction is more obvious. “Frames No. 1” continually refers back to a short musical figure between solos by all four players that evoke different moods. “Clay Myth” also gives everyone solo space, with the backdrops shifting from a bright pizzicato to a somewhat folky groove.

Throughout the album, Bernstein writes diverse parts that make each player stand out individually even as they work together to develop the piece. However, the album would benefit from a bit more forward motion, as the out-of-tempo stops become commonplace and make some of the tracks a bit too similar. By contrast, the climax of “World Warrior” gets unhinged toward the end, with the group adding scrapes and pops for emphasis. And “Hidden” features a violin solo beneath a repeating structure that gets heavier and darker as it proceeds, which gives the album a strong closing statement. If moments like these occurred more often, Veer Quartet would have more foundation to complement their strong group sound.

Learn more about Veer Quartet on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Mike Shanley

Mike Shanley has been a lifelong resident of Pittsburgh and gladly welcomes any visitors to the city, most likely with a cup of coffee in one hand. Over the years, he has written for several alternative weekly papers and played bass guitar in several indie rock bands. He currently writes for the bi-weekly paper Pittsburgh Current and maintains a blog at shanleyonmusic.blogspot.com.