'Basquiat Strings' is not a pure jazz album but it does present a cohesive vision. And...
Joby Waldman 2007
Ben Davis’ stated aim is to make 'alternative string music that people want to listen to'. His group, Basquiat Strings, started life as a standard string quartet (two violins, a viola and a cello). Only later did cellist Davis decide to add double bass 'to strengthen the rhythmic accompaniment', and listening to the raucous, propulsive motion driving many of these compositions it’s understandable why he went a step further and asked drummer Seb Rochford to join the band for the group’s debut recording.
As a regular guest in Rochford’s Polar Bear it would be easy to assume, when listening to tracks like ''Forceful Beast'', that some of Seb’s rhythmic invention has rubbed off on Davis. But I suspect it’s more the case that the two musicians share some of the same sources of inspiration. There are strains of Mingus here, as well as perhaps a smattering of Shostakovich, and fans of Julius Hemphill’s brilliant early 70’s bass-less records such as Dogon A.D. and The Hard Blues may also recognise hints of the inspired, under-rated cellist Abdul Wadud.
Alongside the jazz and the classical influences, there are also folk elements including Macedonian tapan rhythms and Hungarian processional marches. Three standards receive the Davis treatment, which are sufficiently distinctive that the term reassessment is perhaps more apt than arrangement. Wayne Shorter’s ''Infant Eyes'' becomes a chilling meditation on the uncertainty of childhood and Ornette Coleman’s ''Lonely Woman'' depicts a degree of desolation perhaps only an all-string ensemble can achieve.
The rest of the album is comprised of finely-honed originals giving the impression this document has been a long time in the making. ''How Do Birds Hear Music'' is a joyful workout with passages of tight unison alongside sections of spirited improvisation, ending with a fantastically resonant dirge where the drums drop out entirely.
Basquiat Strings is not a pure jazz album but it does present a cohesive vision. And a very listenable one at that.