A meaty blend of jazz and rock
SOMERVILLE -- A mistress of Igor Stravinsky once revealed that the composer enjoyed watching zookeepers throw meat to the animals. So Firebird Ensemble's initiative to bring contemporary music to a carnivorous setting is not exactly unprecedented. On Monday night at Redbones, the chamber group served up its second "Meat the Composer" concert, an eclectic program slanted toward rock and pop influences.
First came "King Street Tango," for string quartet and percussion, by Boston-based violinist/violist and Berklee School of Music faculty member Mimi Rabson. Rabson lets recognizable genres encounter interesting visitors: The tango was graced by gypsy strains, while "Funk #1," later in the program, made room for some elegant jazz.
Aaron Trant, who founded the ensemble with violist Kate Vincent and pianist Sarah Bob, was featured as percussionist and composer. Lisa Bielawa's "In the Eye of the Beholder," written for Trant, is one of a series of solo studies by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project's composer-in-residence. Trant expertly negotiated a set of Asian gongs and an augmented drum set in a fascinating play of color that never coalesced into an actual piece; Bielawa kept sidling up to a groove, but couldn't quite introduce herself.
Trant's own "Dictit," a study in controlled improvisation that yielded some lovely phrases, was played with panache by violinist Gabriela Diaz and flutist Alicia DiDonato. DiDonato also gave a commanding performance of British flute virtuoso Ian Clarke's "Zoom Tube," but the piece itself, a series of bluesy extended-technique riffs, was more proof-of-concept than artistic statement.
Covers appropriately filled out the concert. Holy Cross professor David Claman's version of Jimi Hendrix's "Long, Hot Summer Night" had intriguing hints of folk and country, but busy counterpoint vitiated the backbeat. More successful were arrangements of Tool's "Vicarious," Disturbed's "Remember," and Rage Against the Machine's "Know Your Enemy" by Fred Sladkey, local wunderkind producer and guitarist for the grunge-metal band Defenestrated. Interlocking eighth-note patterns for the strings, combined with drums and Sladkey's own guitar, rocked hard and consistently.
Finally, soprano Caprice Corona joined the entire group for Jonathan Bailey Holland's transcription of the Brainstorm disco hit "Lovin' Is Really My Game." Holland, a Berklee composition professor, deployed strings and winds in an expert evocation of the '70s, and if Corona couldn't quite disguise her operatic pedigree (shying away from brassiness, her high notes were a little tentative), the evening was buoyed home on a wave of AM-radio good vibrations.