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Greene String Quartet At Bar & Grill

July 14, 1987|DON HECKMAN

Jazz violinists have not been the most numerous of improvisational musicians. String quartets have been even more rare, making the appearance of Richard Greene's ensemble at the Vine St. Bar & Grill on Sunday especially interesting.

Greene's reputation has been established on the crossover fringes of jazz/rock and pop music, with stints ranging from Jim Kweskin's Jug Band to the group Seatrain. His current group, however, is a traditional string quartet with Margaret Wooten on violin, James (Jimbo) Ross on viola and Melissa Hasin on cello.

Unlike the Kronos Quartet, which brings a hard-edged, meticulously precise classical phrasing to its interpretations of Thelonious Monk and Bill Evans, the Greene quartet played with a loose and easy momentum that sometimes achieved a real jazz feeling.

"Goodbye, Pork-Pie Hat," Charles Mingus' paean to Lester Young, was the best example, in part because of the passionate performance of the melody, but mostly as a result of Ross' driving improvisation, in which he scatted along with his bowed melody.

Almost as good were a funk-hued sketch of Don Pullen's "Big Alice" (with exceptional string bass-style playing from Hasin), the Swing Era sounding "Blue Greene," a beautifully harmonized "Sophisticated Lady" and another electrifying improvisation from Ross on "Puttin' On the Ritz."

Greene clearly had no intention of assembling a group that would take a dilettante approach to jazz and popular music, and to a large degree, he has been successful in avoiding that problem. But he couldn't resist showing off the quartet's classical skills, as well. Picking the obvious composer, but avoiding the obvious selections, the quartet polished off its well-played program with a Greene transcription for strings of a short, but very characteristic Bartok piano work from the composer's "Mikrokosmos" and the whimsical "Diary of a Fly" (complete with a closing swipe from a flyswatter).

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