Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Kronos Quartet [extended]

  • Music of Bill Evans [Landmark, 1986] B
  • Pieces of Africa [Elektra/Nonesuch, 1992] Neither
  • Floodplain [Nonesuch, 2009] A-
  • Ladilikan [World Circuit, 2017] A-
  • Landfall [Nonesuch, 2018] ***

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

Music of Bill Evans [Landmark, 1986]
This ain't jazz, it's chamber music, and where the same not-quite-swinging strings worked up an agreeable tension on Monk Suite, here the compositional mesh is too neat--Evans damn near wrote chamber music to begin with. On the cute tunes there's an endearing novelty effect, but all the impressionistic watercolors gain is a gravity of tone that will challenge the assumptions of nobody interested enough to listen. B

Pieces of Africa [Elektra/Nonesuch, 1992] Neither

Floodplain [Nonesuch, 2009]
Usually this staunchly eclectic string quartet forges alliances with non-Western musicians I'd as soon stand alone or works with Western composers who aren't to my taste. This collection of traditional music, classical music, pop songs, and special commissions from a broadly conceived Middle East is different. Dumb me found out from the notes that it was the two pop songs that always rang my chimes--one from Egypt circa 1940, the other from '70s Iraq. In the wrong mood, some of the others can seem too solemn, histrionic, drawn-out--slow. But there's nothing here that doesn't suit the right mood. There are cathedrals in Sicily that overlay Christian imagery on Islamic design in buildings that can accommodate all comers. This album brought them back. A-

Trio da Kali & Kronos Quartet: Ladilikan [World Circuit, 2017]
Brought together by Malian music promoter turned ethnomusicologist Lucy Duran, the Trio da Kali is a fabricated supergroup designed to preserve a format that dates to the 13th century. The Kronos Quartet is a standard violin-violin-viola-cello unit that has specialized in cross-genre collaboration since the '70s. So this is neither authenticité or a new fad. But as a skeptic regarding such well-meaning endeavors, I guarantee that it's gorgeous, by which I do not mean merely pretty. For me its deepest attraction is timbral--the way the full quartet's evolved harmonies and pizzicato comping flex against Lassana Diabaté's deep-tinkling balafon and flesh out the funky thrum of Mamadou Kouyaté's bass ngoni. But all this texture needs the melodic anchor provided by lithe power contralto Hawa Diabate, daughter of the renowned Kassé Diabate in a culture where music is a vocation passed generation to generation. The mood isn't ceremonial, but it doesn't party either. Grave and secular down to its two Mahalia Jackson covers, it honors, celebrates, and enjoys music as a calling. A-

Laurie Anderson & Kronos Quartet: Landfall [Nonesuch, 2018]
Audio version of string-quartet-driven multimedia meditation on loss and Hurricane Sandy stops at elegiac except when the artist uses her words ("All the Extinct Animals," "The Water Rises") ***