News & Concerts
Now Celebrating 35 Years of Creative Originality
Rob Thomas - violin & James Emery - guitar & John Lindberg- bass
Now booking 2011/12 & 2012/13 seasons
Concert & Festival Performances ~ Music and Humanities Residencies
"...as rhythmically alive, stylistically varied and consistently inventive
as anything this listener has heard recently." - The New York Times
"Astonishing, soulful and true." - The Woodstock Times
The String Trio of New York celebrates a most special thirty fifth anniversary in 2012 as a vital unit committed to the cutting-edge of creative performances and educational activities.
CONCERT PERFORMANCES are a multi-faceted journey, taking audiences of all types on a voyage through a broad and deep repertoire of original works, commissioned pieces by diverse contemporary composers, and original arrangements of classic jazz compositions. The compelling and dynamic blend of improvisational excitement with the sensibility of chamber ensemble interplay is key to the live concert experience.
THEIR HUNDREDS OF WORLDWIDE PERFORMANCES AND SIXTEEN AWARD WINNING ALBUMS further amplify the depth of spirit and commitment the String Trio of New York offers.
THE MUSIC AND HUMANITIES RESIDENCY engages the group in workshop settings, illustrating how everything is connected. Programs integrate the fields of philosophy, art, psychology, dance, economics, literature and mathematics with creative music. Additionally, master classes, lecture/demonstrations, "informances", and music workshops for audiences of all ages and backgrounds are offered, and have met with a high level of success for decades.
On December 18, 2004, the String Trio had the great delight of documenting their special project with the great saxophonist/composer Oliver Lake. The recording, titled Frozen Ropes, features an extended work by Oliver titled Shiffs as well as another original, Reminds Me. Emery and Lindberg each contribute an original work and the group plays Oliver’s beautiful arrangement of Lonnie’s Lament by John Coltrane.
The CD was released on the Barking Hoop label in the autumn of 2005. Here are some reviews:
from the December 2005 issue
STRING TRIO OF NEW YORK AND OLIVER LAKE
Frozen Ropes (Barking Hoop)
Few things are as attractive as the violin played with a jazz mindset. It's the definitive instrument of European-derived art music, yet its most expressive qualities are often underutilized in that realm. STNY's violinist Rob Thomas possesses the same monster chops and gutbucket sensibility as bandmates bassist John Lindberg, guitarist James Emery and guest saxophonist Oliver Lake. I'd say they strike the perfect balance of intellect and emotion, but that would imply that there's a disconnect between the two. There isn't.
The band's component parts are superb. Emery is a terrific country-blues guitarist who comes out of left field. Lindberg plays bass with percussive intensity and great imagination, and Thomas has absorbed the whole of the jazz tradition. Yet it's the chemistry that makes this music so fine. They play together with the loose precision and barely regulated passion of the best long-running jazz groups. The tunes cover lots of ground, from Lindberg's classically tinged title track to my favorite, Emery's aptly named "Texas Koto Blues." Lake may be a guest but you'd never know it. He fits hand-in-glove, and contributes a pair of nice compositions besides. This is a great group, and Frozen Ropes is an excellent album.
By Chris Kelsey
Frozen Ropes String Trio of New York | Barking Hoop (2006)
The venerable String Trio of New York, founded in 1977, is one of the jazz world's longest running avant-chamber ensembles. Co-founding guitarist James Emery and bassist John Lindberg, along with the group's most recent addition, violinist Rob Thomas, continue to balance stunning virtuosity with free-form expressionism. Featuring iconic alto saxophonist Oliver Lake as a guest artist, Frozen Ropes is a unique item in the enduring ensemble's lengthy discography. Lake proves himself an ideal companion for the trio, whose ardent textures, taut rhythms and abstruse melodic sensibilities are on a par with his own. Together, they display an awesome symbiotic rapport across a diverse set of moods.
Frozen Ropes is conceptually split into two halves with flawless track sequencing. The five pieces on the album modulate from lengthy, esoteric explorations on the first half to brief, sublime genre pieces of astonishing accessibility on the second. The opener, “Shiffs,” is a sinuous web of polyphonic linearity that culminates in a rambling collective frenzy tinted with shades of the blues. A spirited arco duet between Lindberg and Thomas opens the title track before the ensemble converges on a thorny melody. Spiraling out in multiple directions, the group bustles with spastic energy over a jaunty, swinging pulse. Lake's acerbic alto burns white-hot, meshing perfectly with Emery's furious staccato acoustic guitar runs while Thomas' violin soars lithely and Lindberg's sinewy bass relentlessly holds down the bottom end. The first half of the album demonstrates the musicians' phenomenal listening skills while they navigate tricky contrapuntal lines and vigorous collective improvisation.
The second half of the record features three shorter tunes that break from the labyrinthine structures of the first. “Reminds Me” is a tender ballad highlighting Lake and Thomas' lyrical, mellifluous sides. The surprisingly traditional blues grind of “Texas Koto Blues” is enthralling on first listen. Featuring Lake's barking alto and Emery's pneumatic fretwork on soprano guitar, the tune suddenly shifts into Asiatic melancholy towards the coda. Direct, vivacious and surprising in its solemn resolution, it is the album's most affecting composition. The closer, John Coltrane's meditative “Lonnie's Lament,” is suitably emotive, delivered with just the right touch of simmering fervor.
With a diverse cross-section of styles, intricate interplay and vibrant improvisation, Frozen Ropes is a discographical highlight for both the String Trio of New York and Oliver Lake. Collaborative albums are rarely this consistently rewarding.
By Troy Collins
J A Z Z W O R D R E V I E W S
STRING TRIO OF NEW YORK WITH OLIVER LAKE
Barking Hoop BKH-009
Jazzaway JARCD 011
Recording with strings seems be the secret desire of every saxophonist, at least ever since Charlie Parker did his famous BIRD WITH STRINGS sessions in the 1950s. These two CDs, recorded almost simultaneously, but in different countries, show how two veteran alto players of the first and second wave of the avant garde adapt to variations of this setting.
Sonny Simmons, 72, who first recorded with fellow California saxist Prince Lasha back in 1962, chooses the accepted with-strings formula. This session from Oslo playing over harmonies composed, arranged and conducted by flautist Vidar Johansen and interpreted by the Kringkastningsorkesteret of two violins, a viola and a cello.
First known for his association with St. Louis’ Black Artists Group collective, in contrast, sixty-three-year-old Oliver Lake hooks up with the long-established String Trio in New York (STNY). Not only is the STNY of guitarist James Emery, violinist Ron Thomas and bassist John Lindberg numerically smaller than Simmons’ back-up, but the Americans approach their role as collaborators rather than accompanists.
Meanwhile, working out on two of Lake’s tunes, one each by Lindberg and Emery, plus John Coltrane’s “Lonnie’s Lament”, Lake and the STNY seem to mesh from the beginning. With literally fewer strings to harmonize than on THE TRAVELLER, the New York three are able to adapt non-traditional patterns and tunings almost from the beginning. Recorded in non-romantic Paramus, New Jersey, there’s still room for Lake’s abrasive ballad “Reminds Me” the Trane standard and a blues. Modern mainstream, most of FROZEN ROPES’ tunes follow the exposition-variations-theme recapitulation formula, so there’s little chance of the listener getting lost.
There’s also rhythmic innovation on pieces such as the title tune. It encompasses Thomas moving from staccato pitch-sliding and jumps to squeezing out sounds form his fiddle’s upper partials to him and Emery romping à la Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli. Add to this dissonant finger-picking from the guitarist, polyharmonies from the bass and violin and the tune is pleasantly musically schizophrenic.
Emery’s “Texas Koto Blues” proves that it’s still possible to wring unique timbres out of older forms. Using a soprano nylon string guitar, he replicates koto-like texture as if the first century Japanese instrument is being played by Sleepy John Estes or Kokomo Arnold. Added to this is Lake double-tonguing Midwestern blues licks which combine with Emery’s single-string snaps, slides and strokes create an unabashed foot tapper. As Thomas saws away like primitive blues fiddler Butch Cage, the tune climaxes polyphonically with intense vibrations from Lake’s reed and knife-style echoes from Emery’s guitar.
“Shiffs”, the first and longest tune, showcases all the four set out to do. Multi-textural, it evolves double-stopped violin arpeggios, nylon string chromatic runs and flails and bass strings pops plus Lake’s powerful blowing matched with rasgueado from Emery, spiccato runs from Thomas and drags from Lindberg.
As the violinist makes a smooth transition to outputting double and triple stops, these meet double- and triple-tonguing from the saxophonist, surging, finger-picking counterpoint from the guitarist picks up from Lake’s reed smears and glossolalia. A recapping of theme gives way to barking and yelping horn splashes in wider intervals, sul ponticello fiddle lines, as the tune ends with a string-driven crescendo.
Since much of FROZEN ROPES is at that same elevated level, it has a slight edge over THE TRAVELLER. But both CDs prove that conventional or unconventional string groupings don’t have to drag down impassioned improvised music.
by Ken Waxman
One Final Note
String Trio of New York w/Oliver Lake
Frozen Ropes brings together Oliver Lake with the String Trio of New York. Lake, though, never sounds like a guest. He integrates himself into the textures of the band in such a way that he sounds like a regular member of the ensemble.
The session is split in two. The opening pieces are challenging collective pieces, “Shiffs” by Lake and “Frozen Ropes” by bassist John Lindberg. The closing three tracks are more accessible fare. The session opens with the quartet giving a tutti reading to a pungent theme. Here Lake’s alto sounds at times like a fifth string on Rob Thomas’ fiddle with Lindberg resonating underneath and James Emery’s guitar bristling along the edges. Each musician takes a solo break following the tune, before a four-way conversation ensues.
Even when the ensemble seems most disjointed, it phrases as a unit, coming to fleeting resolutions periodically. Each of these phrases sounds about the length of the opening breaks, giving the piece a sense of unity. Duets—first Thomas and Lindberg, then Lake and Emery—emerge eight minutes into the track. The piece concludes with a section that runs through phrases that include waves of notes that seem excerpted from a minimalist composition and a snatch of folk blues.
“Frozen Ropes” is quite different than the free bop rendition on Lindberg’s Quartet Afterstorm session from 1994. Here it opens with an agitated arco duet for bass, played with cello-like fluidity, and violin, with a bit of the theme peeking through just before Lindberg settles into the song’s vamp. It’s clear the tune can swing out, but that momentum is held in check to build energy.
The release comes as the ensemble punches out one figure and Lake and Thomas lock into a duet. Even here Lake settles back, letting the violin streak out ahead, picking up melodic threads from the violin solo. Emery steps out alone over bass, delivering characteristically astringent plucking. Lake and Thomas offer commentary so the solo involves into another four-way conversation.
In contrast to the knotty extended pieces that open the date, the last three offer smooth sailing for the listener. Lake’s “Reminds Me” is a lush ballad that elicits gritty heartfelt blowing from the composer. Emery’s “Texas Koto Blues” is a playful piece that has him playing some elemental country blues on soprano guitar. The quartet brings its years of experience in collective improvisation to bear in freshening up this hoary material. Emery’s solo is a wonder, a dizzying display of plucking prowess that wouldn’t have been out of place on some country porch jam. The last few minutes of the track makes an unexpected turn toward the spiritual with a yearning call to prayer.
The closing “Lonnie’s Lament” is given a reverential reading punctuated by more blistering Emery fretwork. The way the four musicians at once blend, while still asserting their individual voices, is indicative of the way they work together throughout the session: a collaboration worth celebrating.
by David Dupont
DOWNTOWN MUSIC GALLERY
STRING TRIO OF NEW YORK [JAMES EMERY/JOHN LINDBERG/ROB THOMAS] With OLIVER LAKE
Label: Barking Hoop 009 Country: USA
This features Oliver Lake on alto sax, Rob Thomas on violin, James Emery on acoustic & soprano guitars and John Lindberg on double bass. This fine session consists of two pieces by Mr. Lake, one by Lindberg, one by Emery and a cover of Trane's "Lonnie's Lament". The String Trio of New York has been together since 1979 and has always included Mr. Emery & Mr. Lindberg, with some half dozen violinists. This is their 16th recording as a trio, but their first (?) with a special guest. Quite a unique acoustic quartet it is indeed. Oliver Lake's lengthy "Shiffs" shifts between solos, duos, trios and the quartet. Sometimes sparse, at times fragmented, yet always a central thread holding it together. Each member takes a long, inspired solo with an explosive duo on alto sax and guitar near the end. Lindberg's "Frozen Ropes" features some fine, ecstatic bowing by both strings in the first part and some difficult written passages in the middle of this piece. A challenge for all four players, no doubt. Mr. Lake's "Reminds Me" has a fine, memorable bluesy melody and some sublime playing from Oliver's tasty alto sax. James' "Texas Koto Blues" is the real thing with some fine slide acoustic guitar (what a f**king solo!) from Emery and superb blues-drenched sax and violin as well. Coltrane's classic gem "Lonnie Lament" seems like a perfect way to bring this fine disc to a auspicious end, with a touching solos from Emery and Lake. A beautiful disc from a unique acoustic quartet.