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Wayne Shorter, Miles Davis meet Ebene: When string quartets rock

September 30, 2011 |  9:00 am

Wayne Shorter
Jazz saxophonist and composer Wayne Shorter was in the audience for the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s opening night gala at Walt Disney Concert Hall Tuesday night. No surprise there. Herbie Hancock was soloist in Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.” Shorter and Hancock were in Miles Davis’ “second quintet,” one of the greatest chamber ensembles of all time, ample evidence of which can be found on a new CD/DVD set of live performances from the quintet's 1967 European tour.

The Ebène Quartet, an impeccable young French string quartet winning awards left and right for all the right reasons, will open the 108th season of Coleman concerts at Caltech Sunday afternoon in a traditional program of Mozart, Borodin and Brahms. That’s no surprise either. The Ebène has just released an eloquent new Mozart CD.

What do Shorter and Miles have to do with the Ebène? Plenty.

The Ebène, with the help of a drummer, enjoys morphing into a smooth-jazz quintet. That Ebène alter ego has a new release as well, a DVD entitled “Fiction” documenting a live concert at the Folies Bergère in Paris. And the first number is none other than Shorter’s “Footprints.” Also on the program is Davis’ “All Blues/So What,” along with some film music, Latin bits by Jobim and Piazzolla, and a guest appearance of French opera star Natalie Dessay blandly singing “Over the Rainbow.” The Ebène’s violist even croons his way through Bruce Springsteen’s “Streets of Philadelphia.”

The creamy, cosmopolitan Ebène is not exactly the next edgy Kronos. Nor is the tourist-trap Folies the hippest of venues. Still, the idea of string quartets mixing it up is -- in no small part thanks to the Kronos Quartet (which will be appearing on the L.A. Phil’s Hancock-curated jazz series later this season) -- very much welcome and very much with us.

The Calder String Quartet, another impeccable young classical ensemble, recently appeared at the Blum & Poe Gallery in Culver City playing an early Terry Riley quartet to celebrate its revelatory new Riley LP. The Calders, however, really can rock when they want to. They were the spectacularly versatile house band at the Carlsbad Music Festival last weekend. Friday night they will appear on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" alongside the Airborne Toxic Event.

It just so happens that the Ebène will be guest artists next week at the Colburn School, working and performing with students. The Calder is the Colburn quartet-in-residence. And Hancock has an office across the street at Disney. Perhaps the French players will be able to pick up a few pointers themselves.


Music review: Dudamel and Hancock in L.A. Phil Gershwin gala

Music review: Carlsbad Music Festival

Sounds that take body and soul

-- Mark Swed

Photo: Wayne Shorter at the Los Angeles Philharmonic gala Tuesday night. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times.