The String Quartet No.1, “At the Octoroon Balls,” is an experiment. To his credit, Marsalis does not seem at all cowed by the quartet tradition: he approaches the setting as a vector for his compositional instincts. There are few surprises here-nor any stylistic peccadilloes. The Orion String Quartet does an admirable job of finding the composer’s rhythmic intent. Though the liner notes would evoke “Bartok in the Delta,” it is the Bartok of Microcosmos, not of the String Quartets. Having said that, there is no mistaking this for any other string quartet composed in the jazz idiom. Marsalis similarly infuses “A Fiddler’s Tale Suite” with his musical personality, hosting Stravinsky and the influence of “L’Histoire du Soldat” as well as Ellington.
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