April 17, 2014

Michael Jackson and Sting get a Brazilian on Quatuor Ebène’s new album

The French quartet serve up a fresh musical cocktail featuring the seductive vocals of Stacey Kent and Bernard Lavilliers.

The New York Times has described the Ebènes as “a string quartet that can easily morph into a jazz band”, and it’s true that the innovative young ensemble is as riveting in Ravel (2009 Gramophone Recording of the Year) as in sophisticated arrangements of pop and film music.

They continue to surprise with a new album inspired by the irresistible rhythms of Brazil. But the Ebène Quartet don’t stop at Jobim, the father of bossa nova; they found echoes of bossa and samba where you would least expect them — resulting in their own arrangements of the Michael Jackson hit I Can’t Help It and Sting’s Fragile, among others. “We are always fascinated by the links between apparently unconnected pieces of music as we explore different aesthetic worlds,” cellist Raphaël Merlin explains.

To that end, the intrepid French foursome invited American jazz chanteuse Stacey Kent to lend her light yet soulful vocals to the album — “a dazzling woman with a radiant voice and a great lover of Brazilian music, who welcomed us into her world,” enthuses violist Mathieu Herzog. She is joined by the iconic French singer Bernard Lavilliers, himself an adventurer “whose name is synonymous with the rhythms and scents of Latin culture”.

Even with songs in English, French and Portuguese — and a Brazilian choir and percussionists joining the fray — the Ebènes’ impassioned, nuanced playing comes to the fore in moments for the quartet alone: a detour to Argentina with Piazzolla’s Libertango and a joyous rendition of the theme from Terry Gilliam’s celebrated film Brazil.

“When someone mentions quartets and chamber music, this isn’t normally what comes to mind,” says Lavilliers. “These four are anything but fixed in their ways, and they’re completely mad about Latin music — and other kinds of music as well.”

Brazil is out April 28. More info here.