Sirius Quartet: Paths Become Lines
Autentico Music

Though we long for it, it happens rarely, that moment when suddenly confronted with a piece of music so striking, we stop what we're doing, close our eyes, and give ourselves over completely to it. Such an exhilarating moment arises during Paths Become Lines' second track, “Ceili,” a soulful expression that can't help but overshadow the album's other selections—all of which are fine, just not as immediately transfixing.

A couple of critical differences separate Sirius Quartet from other standard string quartets: whereas most quartets perform fully notated music, violinists Fung Chern Hwei and Gregor Huebner, violist Ron Lawrence, and cellist Jeremy Harman operate more like a jazz quartet. To that end, impassioned soloing isn't uncommon, and their pieces aren't solely written by outside composers but often originals written by the quartet members themselves. Their fiery playing is characterized by a spontaneous live feel that's far removed from the meticulous, by-the-numbers approach a complex modern classical composition might require; to that end, a soloist will often step forth during a piece to affirm even more overtly the group's allegiance to improv-related forms.

The group's latest collection presents seven original selections, one of them a four-part quartet. Sirius's passionate engagement with the material is evident from the moment the title track inaugurates the hour-long recording with insistent patterns, agitated stabs, and wild, front-line soloing that blows the top off the piece four minutes into it. Chern Hwei's “Ceili” then appears, nonchalantly at first, but when the stirring theme enters, the music slowly blossoms until the violin soloist lets forth with a nakedly emotional outpouring.

As stated, “Ceili” is an album standout, but it's hardly the only time the recording catches the ear. A subtle jazz feel informs the swinging rhythms of the otherwise romantic reverie “Racing Mind”; “Spidey Falls,” by comparison, is anything but subtle, with in this case the quartet digging into the material with a high-wire aggressiveness one might call feverish. Sirius shows it can play it straight when it needs to during the performance of Huebner's “The Wollheim Quartet,” though even in this more formal, sometimes-contemplative instance the group invests the playing, the hellacious “Presto” movement in particular, with the same kind of conviction and energy it brings to everything else on the album. Sirius's members don't play with reckless abandon, but their visceral attack throughout this stellar set clearly conveys an undeniable feeling of liberation.

November 2016