Contrabbasso Quartet | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Contrabbasso Quartet 

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Contrabbasso Quartet

Not a particularly versatile instrument, the double bass has nonetheless charted an interesting musical history, from its lowly origins in the early 1700s as a maritime fog signaler and an orchestral support player to its current preeminence with the jazz set. As with the percussion family, whose lower sounds it was meant to "double," the bass has come into its own this century in compositions prominently featuring its peculiar deep drones and moans. As a bowed instrument the bass is still woefully limited by its range in comparison to its uppity siblings like the violin; but as a plucked instrument in jazz it is thriving, as musicians like local whiz Tatsu Aoki use freewheeling techniques to coax from it all sorts of sensuous sounds. Now from Italy comes a quadruple threat (or treat): the Contrabbasso Quartet. Its members--Luca Cola, Andrea Pighi, Antonio Sciancalepore, and Massimo Taddei--are all classically trained and in their 30s. Each either has a conservatory teaching gig or plays in a leading Italian orchestra, but what they do as a quartet seems to be a passion. A CD on Musicaimmagine Records, Un'ottava sottosopra (which loosely translates as "an octave all scrambled up"), demonstrates the quartet's way with jazz and classical-derived pieces alike. In its rendition of Henry Mancini's "The Pink Panther Theme" the foursome's smooth teamwork suggests an orchestral scope, and their comical knack is evident in an uncanny mimicry of a police siren. In "Beethoven's Fifth Bossa Nova," the "Rigoletto Quartet," and excerpts from Carmen, their disciplined bowing and plucking and witty subversions turn odd exercises in transcription into engaging commentaries on golden oldies. The basses are least effective when they try too hard to imitate the violins--as in the Contrabbasso's versions of Strauss waltzes, in which simultaneous bowing ends up sounding like mating hippos. But such ungainly interludes hardly distract from the novelty, the technical prowess, or the esprit de corps of the Contrabbasso's act. Both these performances are free. Saturday, 6 PM, Istituto Italiano di Cultura, suite 1450, 500 N. Michigan; 312-822-9545. Monday, noon, Daley Civic Center, 50 W. Washington; 312-346-3278.

TED SHEN

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Contrabasso Quartet photo.

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