Melonious Quartet
Au Sud de la Mandoline
l'empreinte digitale (ed@gulliver.fr, via Harmonia Mundi-US)

cd cover French mandolinist Patrick Vaillant has been at the forefront of the new folk music movement in Europe for many years, particularly in his adventurous new music work with Italian accordionist Ricardo Tesi. But Melonious Quartet is something different. This ensemble mimics the classical string quartet with a foursome of mandocello, alto mandolin, mandola and mandolin, but there the comparison really stops. Au Sud de la Mandoline moves to the essentials of the instrument, where the plectrum is king and all music is a target of their rage and affection. The stated focus is the music "of the south" and there is much of southern France (particularly Provence), the Mediterranean and Brazil, including an excellent rendition of a Pixinguinha work, "Ainda me recordo." But this is largely not a folk music exploration. They perform Francis Poulenc's "Mouvements Perpetuel" brilliantly, evoking not only the strong folk roots of this early 20th century work, but finding a modern edge as it is transferred to all plucked instruments. Their rendition of Darius Milhaud's "Suite Provencal" emphasizes his varied Mediterranean roots as a Frenchman from Provence and as a Jew, in a lovely, sparse arrangement. They also tackle distinctly non-southern music, particularly in their remarkably romantic rendition of Frank Zappa's "King Kong." The recording opens with one and closes with two traditional pieces from Provencal, a suite of Christmas tunes and two "farandole" that they take great and wonderful liberties with. Excellent throughout, Melonious Quartet transcends both the instruments they play and the music they choose. - CF

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