Mimi Rabson wanted to play the violin because she liked the sound it made. However, she wasn't too keen on Beethoven and Brahms. Why, she asked, do violinists only learn the classical repertoire? She liked Duke Ellington. Miles Davis. Thelonious Monk. Why couldn't she adapt, say, Weather Report's "Birdland" for strings?
There appeared to be no good answer, so in 1983 she gathered three fellow musicians and created the Really Eclectic String Quartet (RESQ), an ensemble that breaks musical traditions by fusing the classical quartet with jazz improvisation.
"The string quartet is a comfortable and intimate situation," Rabson says. "But when you think of a string quartet, you think of this single unit that bows its head to this great work. I wanted to get people who are great at what they do and bring their personality to the group. Like in jazz, each player has their own thing to say about the music."
In this case, that's Matt Glaser on violin, Pat Jordan on viola and Jim Guttman on upright bass. Yes, bass.
"I think the bass can be more powerful, deeper than the cello," she says, "and it is a little scarier onstage. I think it really adds to our groove."
That's the point of all this: groove. Rabson likes to groove. She gets a real kick when audience members leave the hall during a concert and go dance in the lobby. One of her goals, she says, is to play in a setting where there's a dance floor in front of the stage so people can get up and swing.
RESQ performs Wednesday night at 7:30 at the Museum of Natural History's Baird Auditorium. Tickets are $12 for Resident Associate Program members and $16 for non-members. For information, call 357-3030.
A KIND OF HUSH
When you listen to Ultra Vivid Scene, you think: Here's another young, '60s-influenced group from England. Another entry in the mini-British Invasion of the past year or so. Maybe the quartet is part of the Manchester music explosion that sent the Inspiral Carpets and the Sundays our way. There's a fine British twang to the vocals and a mod twist on the guitar and keyboards. This is not a cheeseburger-and-shake ensemble, for sure.
"I was born in New York," says the Scene's founder-guitarist-vocalist Kurt Ralske in a sweet whisper of a voice. "And the band is based in New York."
Hmm. Then he must have moved to England as a kid. Where else could he have developed that pure and lovely British inflection?
"I lived there for a few years," he says.
"From 1985 to '88."
Ralske went to London, he says, to break into the music world.
"I felt the music was interesting there," the 24-year-old says, softly. "It's a smaller country and things tend to happen there faster."
He cut his first Ultra Vivid Scene album there. Wrote all the songs, played all the instruments, sang all the vocals, produced and mixed the project all by himself. For the second album, "Joy 1967-1990" (Columbia), he wasn't quite so ambitious. He added second guitarist Colin Rae and drummer Steve Crowley, both of whom he knew from the New York band circuit, and Josephine Wiggs, former bassist for the British group the Breeders.
The songs are almost as soft and quiet as the songwriter. Easy-going psychedelia with Ralske's hushed vocals. He cites the Velvet Underground and the Beatles as influences.
"The late '60s was such an interesting time," he says. "We look back to that intensity. At the same time, we look forward, to the future. We're not nostalgic. We don't try and imitate those groups. We have something of our own."
Ultra Vivid Scene performs with Bob Mould on Tuesday night at Gaston Hall. Tickets are $18.50 and available at Ticketron. For information, call 202-638-2008.
TRIANGLE OF TRADITIONS
Inti-Illimani, Paco Pena and John Williams are what "world music" is really about -- the meshing of musical traditions into a unique, beautiful sound.
Inti-Illimani, a seven-member Chilean folk ensemble that escaped from political persecution in 1973, combines haunting Andean wooden flutes and chanting with the contemporary Latin American rhythms it learned in exile. Pena is a highly regarded, self-taught flamenco guitarist from Cordoba, Spain. And Williams is a classical guitarist from Melbourne, Australia, who has studied with legendary guitarist Andres Segovia, played with jazz singer Cleo Laine, and contributed to soundtracks for "The Deer Hunter" and "A Fish Called Wanda."
"In a way, it's like three different streams coming together," Pena says of the group's musical melange. "The Latin moods are present, but the classical music shines. And so does the flamenco. It is a very endearing relationship."
He describes the relationship as "an accident." The three met eight years ago, when they were all performing at the same event. "We decided to do something for fun," Pena recalls, "and play together." They liked the sound, so they worked on refining it. This year they recorded an album, "Leyenda" (CBS).
"It's really a different musical experience," says Pena, "a linking of three different aspects of music into one."
Inti-Illimani, Paco Pena and John Williams are performing at George Washington University's Lisner Auditorium tonight at 8. Tickets are $19.50 to $35 and available at Ticketron. For information, call 202-432-0200.
"It's dreams that keep you going," says a small voice. "Dreams that make you get up in the morning."
The voice is that of a homeless child. The line is from "Is Anyone Minding the Children?," a play about homelessness performed by homeless. "A potpourri of the fears and struggles and dreams of children at risk," is how the author, Suzanne Goldman, describes it. "Amazingly hopeful," is the way director Karen Simon sees it.
"Even though there is so much that is tearing these children apart," says Simon, "ripping out their spirit, they are still so hopeful. Their spirit is still there."
Although the play was written by Goldman, the stories belong to the homeless. Last summer, she gave questionnaires to a group of homeless children. She asked about their fears and their dreams. About their day-to-day existences. She turned the answers into a series of vignettes. This play comes from the streets.
"We have one scene where a son and daughter write letters to their mother and father, trying to get the family back together," says Simon. "And the boy gets angry. He tells his father, 'You're a coward. You're afraid to come back to the projects. You don't have the guts to see what's happening to us.' "
Then there's the 12-year-old cheerleader whose mother has AIDS. The mother is too sick to take care of the family, so the 12-year-old must carry the burden. "And she says, 'Who's going to take care of me when I'm tired and sick?' " says Simon. "It's so sad to see this, because you know it's true."
But then there's the hope. One vignette tells of a little girl who dreams she's the most beautiful girl in the world. They put on a beauty pageant and she wins. Her dream is realized.
"Is Anyone Minding the Children" will be performed Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8:30 p.m. at the Washington Project for the Arts galleries. Admission is free. For information, call 202-347-4813.