The Routes Quartet – Arche: Album Review

The Routes Quartet embrace diversity as the genres merge on Arche.

Release Date: Available now

Label: RQCD0002 – Creative Scotland

Format: digital / CD

A nice play on routes/roots, the very roots that have led the quartet on a route that takes them into crossover territory to find a soundworld where traditional and classical genres find a common ground.

The album title references beginnings and origins, the theme continuing with the track titles, taken from the Ancient Greek, that invest the spiritual and organic elements – Miltos (Red Earth), Kairos (Time) and Vesta (Goddess of the Hearth) just three of the six pieces, two of which that extend toward and challenge the ten minute mark. The fiddles of Madeline Stewart and David Lombardi, Emma Tomlinson’s viola and the depth provided by the cello of Rufus Huggan take the ‘string quartet’ template into unchartered territories that see the quartet kissing the modern, minimalist Phillip Glass / Steve Reich ambience. As a guide, violinist, composer, conductor Greg Lawson brings his Mogwai experiences to bear.

Recorded in a bespoke studio set in a secluded countryside abode, Vesta sets the tone, capturing atmospheric sounds in the field, the wind brushing against the microphone as a paves the way for the quartet to work out a flowing piece with a series of dramatic charges. As Emma Tomlinson says, much of the fun in the creation of this music is in how the listener interprets the composition with their own narrative. Left you our own devices, we pick up with Miltos, a bluesy shuffle and juddering tempo soon smoothes out and tests with some passages that approach the discordant.

Skirting the ten minute boundary, Thymos spends time floating around a spacious area, the emphasis on space and shimmering motion, before the full weight of the four strings sweeps in to offer a brief moment of release. Perhaps the most cinematic of the pieces, it also epitomizes the stripped-back and exposed philosophy. The second of the lengthier track, Melos, sticks to a more tried and tested format, and along with Aster, find the quartet rising and falling in unison.

Kairos turns the MO inside out, the gentle tune giving way mid-arrangement to a droning swirl – almost ethnic and once again, seemingly acquired from found sounds, exploring the string combination through a series of passages where the dynamics play a significant role; shifting textures, tones and timbres all woven into the fabric of the tunes. The final few seconds of Aster once again capture sounds from the field; voices that complete the circle and take us back to the very beginning of Arche.

The trad string quartet is no more; a fascinating exploration that sees the funding from Creative Scotland used at its finest.

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