It seems like yesterday that there were no string quartets dabbling in jazz-cum-classical repertory. Now there are at least three, one of which, the Greene String Quartet, was heard Sunday in a recital at the Mekler Gallery on La Cienega Boulevard.
Among their many talents violinist Richard Greene and his violist, Jimbo Ross, have the ability to play improvised jazz. This gives them an advantage over the Kronos Quartet whose members read meticulously but have to call on outsiders to add the ad-lib element.
The Turtle Island String Quartet has even greater credentials, since all four are versed in the freewheeling art; however, Greene and his colleagues claim such a delightfully eclectic repertoire that their program, announced with a dry wit by Greene, was a flawless blend of classical virtuosity, swinging good humor and passionate dedication.
Opening with a touch of country style swing in "Hoedown," the group soon took up the everlasting subject of the blues in Jon Charles' riff-rife "Bluegreene."
In two pieces originally written for a full-string ensemble, the quartet's harmony was rich enough to suggest a much larger group. The high point was reached with an adaptation of "Goodby Porkpie Hat," Charles Mingus' tribute to Lester Young. In the evening's only vocal, Jimbo Ross and violinist Margaret Wooten sang the lyrics; then Ross simultaneously scatted and played a solo, a la George Benson.
The gifted cellist Melissa Hasin filled a dual part, adding her sound to the ensemble's but occasionally playing pizzicato in the manner of a walking jazz bass. Never was the absence of a regular rhythm section conspicuous.
Ed Kusby's ingenious arrangement of "Doin' Things," a 60-year-old piece by jazz violinist Joe Venuti, found Jimbo Ross strumming his viola like a reincarnation of guitarist Eddie Lang. After winding up with a Doors medley, the quartet offered a tongue-in-cheek novelty, "Diary of a Fly," as an encore.
The group worked contentedly without amplification in this intimate setting. After all the time its members have put in playing pop in the studios or rock in the clubs, it was obvious they were having the time of their lives, as was the audience.