Exciting music for violin, cello, clarinet and percussion
Portraits by Gerard Collett
iyatraQuartet make original music rooted in ancient melodies and folk tales. Their distinct vocal harmonies emerge from a rich sound world of soaring strings, the exuberant lyricism of the bass clarinet and sensitive percussion abound with groove. Delving into generations-old European traditions for inspiration, particularly the work of 12th century pioneering female composers, iyatraQuartet re-imagine early music and stories through their unique contemporary twist. Taking their name after the Hindi word for travel or pilgrimage, the band embraces this sense of journey through place and time in their music.
Their debut album, This World Alone (2015), was praised by violinist Nigel Kennedy as ‘beautiful … full of space and truth’. In 2019, iyatraQuartet were recipients of the inaugural Kennedy-Kolodziejski Award and PRS Foundation’s Open Fund. Released in lockdown, their second album, Break the Dawn (2020), received critical international acclaim, including from Cerys Matthews, Folk Radio UK and Max Reinhardt.
iyatraQuartet is supported by PRS Foundation’s Open Fund Award.
TunedIn.London concert, City Hope Church, 30.09.21 Photo by Miguel Santos
This World Alone, full review by Liam Izod
A far cry from your average chamber quartet
With a name derived from the Hindi for travel, iyatraQuartet – an ensemble of cello, clarinet, percussion and violin – journey from ragas to Steve Reich on a genre-spanning debut album. The London-based quartet’s chameleonic nature extends to their experimentations with timbre, which hear the serene lilt of Alice Barron’s violin on ‘Salutaris’ transform into a seagull squawk during a raucous solo on ‘Temple’. Similarly, George Sleightholme’s clarinet playing gives the listener a new appreciation for the instrument’s versatility, ranging from bustling Middle Eastern melodies to insistent minimalist pulses.
Less footloose in feel, Richard Phillips’ cello playing nevertheless stands out. On ‘Talenga’ he alights upon an instance of exquisite polyphony while in duet with the thumb piano of percussionist Will Roberts. It is a moment that must have caused hairs to stand on end during the improvisatory sessions in which the album’s compositions were forged. The magic is over too soon, however.
iyatraQuartet are laudably unafraid to challenge the listener with art-music excursions, but at times the record is a little too restless. While This World Alone feels like an album from a group in search of their sound, it is certainly a journey worth joining.
Liam Izod, Songlines Magazine
This World Alone, full review by Mark T
iyatraQuartet play roots-based, improvised music on orchestral instruments using global sources as a starting point. If need a parallel they are a little like the Elements era Third Ear Band (when they were at their least noodly) or, at odd moments, Nigel Kennedy playing with John Etheridge.
Unusually for improvised music, there is very little evidence of jazz structures or sounds in the mix and surprisingly, for instruments which were developed by and for the classical tradition, it all sounds very... well... ethnic. Much of this is due to each musician's exploration of the sound potential of their individual instrument and to the choice of percussion instruments used by Will Roberts, singing bowls and other tuned percussion giving the proceedings an other-worldliness. I particularly like the track Mad Molly which very much reminds me of Lol Coxhill or John Surman doing Caithness to Kerry. Another favourite is 1426 which invokes the Kronos Quartet on their CD Early Music.
Improvised music is notoriously difficult to catch in flight in the studio and engineer Les Mommsen has done a good job in capturing and reproducing a great sound. Our musical culture increasingly demands that musicians design worlds of predictable consistency so it is really good to encounter a band who live by their wits and have the confidence to produce something different each night. I would like to catch this band live.
Mark T, fROOTS Magazine