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Jazz review: Billy Childs and Kronos Quartet at Walt Disney Hall

March 12, 2012 |  2:04 pm

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Niceness met vision in an ambitious collision of jazz and neoclassical at Disney Hall on Sunday night. Niceness won.

Although the Grammy-winning talents of Billy Childs, Kronos Quartet and Bill Frisell packed potential for chemistry, the energies tended to dissipate.

The intensity focused mid-evening with the pointy-booted Kronos, whose stand-alone segment brought industrial aspiration to the agitated "Aheym (Homeward)," by Bryce Dessner of the art-pop group the National.

The four bows stroked and slapped with familial elasticity, bringing out the composition's snap-back power and hypnotic magnetism. Frank Gehry's airy modern hall was built for this.

Childs' all-star quartet glowed with a Californian spirituality, the pianist's "Aaron's Song" and "Hope in the Face of Despair" owing as much to film music as to jazz. Despite the klezmer plaint of Steve Wilson's saxophones, the latter piece would have seemed little more than pondering puzzlement if Childs hadn't credited its inspiration to "Maus," Art Spiegelman's dark comix biography of his Auschwitz-survivor father.

Childs' inventive voicings behind the attractive melodies enriched the polite mood; the flexible bass and drums of Scott Colley and Brian Blade stayed well in harness.

Blade did bash a bit when Childs' crew was joined by Kronos on Childs' "Music for Two Quartets," whose disparate compositional elements were stitched together with a coarse twine of jagged rhythms. A gushing Hollywood crescendo couldn't unify an awkward though perhaps intentional impression of Shostakovich wrestling Liberace.

Frisell's renowned taste and economy obstructed emotion when Beautiful Dreamers, the electric guitarist's restrained trio with violist Eyvind Kang and drummer Rudy Royston, meandered through a bluesless blues, a quaint "Tea for Two" and a delicate "Strawberry Fields Forever," whose coda finally achieved an aura of raga trance. Even treated to a few Martian chordal interjections, some patrons might have felt patronized.

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-- Greg Burk

Photos: The Kronos Quartet, from left, Hank Dutt, Jeffrey Zeigler, David Harrington, John Sherba. Photo credit: Michael Wilson. At right, Billy Childs. Credit: Javiera Estrada

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