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ALLA BREVE

April 18, 1993|JOHN HENKEN

"SHORT STORIES." Kronos Quartet. Elektra Nonesuch 9 79310-2. Many of the nine pieces on this motley collection will be familiar to local listeners from recent Kronos concerts. The stand-outs are John Zorn's volatile "Cat O'Nine Tails" and Sofia Gubaidulina's dark, one-movement Quartet No. 2, in richly detailed and expressive performances. The Soliloquy from Scott Johnson's "How It Happens," with the electronically stammered voice of I.F. Stone lamenting tribalism, sounds unhelpfully bland on disc. Guitarist Steven Mackey joins the ensemble in his "Physical Property," the longest piece here and with little beyond energy and Mackey's jagged playing to sustain it.

Of the shorter works, Elliott Sharp's percussive etude "Digital" and a cover of Willie Dixon's "Spoonful"--tighter and meaner than in some live Kronos performances--make strong impressions. The gamesmanship of Cowell's "Quartet Euphometric" passes quickly, with softened edges, while John Oswald's white-noise crescendo "Spectre" outlasts its grudging welcome. The string players seem completely irrelevant to Pandit Pran Nath's repetitive chant, "Aba Kee Tayk Hamaree," backed by Krishna Bhatt on tabla and Terry Riley and John Constant on tambouras.

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