At the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater last night, the Uptown String Quartet sounded even more impressive than in its recent recording debut.
Conceived by jazz drummer Max Roach, the ensemble features his daughter, violist Maxine Roach; violinists Diane Monroe and Lesa Terry; and cellist Eileen M. Folson. Although each is classically trained, the group's repertoire is delightfully eclectic and often daringly arranged. Traditional melodies, including a couple of tunes arranged by jazz bassist and composer Bill Lee, demonstrated the quartet's precision, warmth and expressiveness in rather conventional settings. But what began as a lovely, quaint rendition of the Scott Joplin rag "Easy Winners" ultimately took on a distinctly earthy personality, the first of many unusual touches.
Later, the Oscar Pettiford tune "Tricotism" blended sprightly, pizzicatto passages, the familiar knotty bass line and a strummed violin that sounded more like a tenor banjo. Other percussive tunes, including Max Roach's "Extensions," found the quartet beating out the rhythms on the strings with their bows or tapping the sound boxes with their hands. Further highlights included the robust Kansas City fiddle swing interlude on "Midnight Child," the emotionally taut tribute "Song for Winnie" and the yearning spiritual "Calvary."
The group returns to the area as part of the Max Roach Double Quartet at the Wolf Trap Barns on March 2 and 3.