Quartet San Francisco: QSF Plays Brubeck. Jeremy Cohen & Alisa Rose, violins, Keith Lawrence, viola, & Michelle Djokic, cello. ViolinJazz Recordings, 12 tracks, 61 minutes, © 2009.

Thirty years ago, the concept of a string quartet performing as a jazz ensemble would have been a nearly revolutionary idea and would have been greeted within the spectrum of derision — by classical purists — to great interest — by those with wider musical palettes. Those days are long gone as there are dozens of string quartets who play jazz, at least as part of their repertoire, so the novelty has worn off. In 2001, Quartet San Francisco played its debut concert and has since gained international acclaim as a group with no boundaries as it delves into tango, world music of all kinds, and jazz. This CD is entirely devoted to the music of legendary pianist and composer Dave Brubeck, and it is his quote on the inner sleeve that sums up the brilliantly adapted transformation: “It’s an honor for a composer to have his music re-visited by a group such as Quartet San Francisco.”

All of Brubeck’s big hits like “Blue Rondo A La Turk,” “Kathy’s Waltz” and others are here, including his biggest of them all, “Take Five” – which is often mistakenly attributed to Brubeck but was actually written by Paul Desmond. In these types of projects, two musical aspects are of paramount importance: the quality and inventiveness of the arrangements and the ability of the musicians to play in a convincing jazz style. Both of these are present here with an A+ rating. First violinist Jeremy Cohen has penned the arrangements for nine of the twelve tunes and they all brimming with refreshing harmonies, creative string effects and new ways to experience Brubeck’s songs. More importantly, the tunes are delivered with real appreciation of the rhythmic subtleties of jazz playing that often defy traditional notation. This is no easy task as there have been some dreadful projects involving some of the biggest classical names who may play all the notes but are unable to hide their unfamiliarity with the genre. Add to this the incredibly warm and natural sound and you have a recording that can be enjoyed by everyone from the most curmudgeonly classicist to an old time fan of the West Coast cool style that Brubeck helped develop. Highly recommended!