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The humorously named Ethel might have the same lineup as a normal classical string quartet, but that's where the similarity ends. The four works that comprise the group's self-titled album don't so much push at the barriers of modern classical music as tip them over completely. John King's Sweet Hardwood is a challenging piece — both for playing and listening, before resolving into something like Americana through a strange prism for its final two sections. Phil Kline's The Blue Room & Other Stories offers moodiness, and a feeling akin to some more ambient electronica in its opening section, before the slightly tortuous and tight March movement, which blossoms into the lyrically autumnal The Blue Room, before turning to a controlled dance of Tarantella. The instrumental parts in Todd Reynolds' Uh...It Happened So Fast slither and slide around each other, rising and falling alarmingly, a piece that works beautifully, but demands a great deal of the players. Compared to those three, Be-In is less successful, and seemingly more random, although composer Evan Ziporyn's bass clarinet does add some lyricism. Throughout the whole album, the entire quartet — Ralph Farris, Dorothy Lawson, Reynolds, and Mary Rowell — shows complete command of its instruments, and the ability to perform in the most complex styles with a fabulous grace. Maybe it's not the easiest listening in the world, but it's remarkably satisfying.

Ethel, Ethel
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