Unikoby Samuli Kosminen
The Kronos Quartet has long been known for collaborating with other musicians and artists on their performances and albums. In "Uniko," it is joined by Finnish musicians Kimmo Pohjonen and Samuli Kosminen, who both composed the music and are active as performers, Pohjonen on accordion and vocals and Kosminen in processing and programming string and accordion samples. In terms of its aesthetic, this album continues a tradition of integrating technology that goes back as far as John Zorn's "Forbidden Fruit" from 1987, and to pieces that evoke deep sadness with the flavor of Eastern European and Near and Middle Eastern traditions dating back to István Márta's disturbing "Doom. A Sigh" from 1989. Technology is even more of a presence here than in most of its earlier albums. Kosminen's manipulations of the samples are present throughout almost all of the tracks, adding a layer of mystery, sometimes melancholy and sometimes sinister, to the acoustic sound of the quartet. In some movements the processed elements take over with a dominating, driving beat. The piece also leaves considerable room for improvisation, and violinist David Harrington in particular is given a chance to shine in the fifth movement, "Kamala." The music may not have the tight economy of pieces from the Kronos' earlier albums, but it is mournfully eloquent and always compelling. The quartet, as always, plays with great energy and panache, throwing itself wholeheartedly into the music. Ondine's sound is clean, well defined, and nicely ambient.
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It really is a crime that there aren't more artists like the Kronos Quartet out there today. Uniko is a fantastic album, and really shows the evolution of classical music beyond the modern era and into the 21st century. Its sound isn't for everyone, and borders on the overtly progressive. However, it creates atmospheres that are supremely intriguing at all times. I found myself listening to their pieces and really.thinking. It's not an album I could relax to, but at the same time, that's why I like it. It expects a bit more of its listeners, and for those willing to traverse the divide, it rewards them brilliantly.