Thursday, October 29, 2009

Osso Quartet lets the rabbit run

By Meredith Deliso

What started out as a friendly collaboration among Brooklyn neighbors has blossomed into a critically acclaimed album, nation-wide tour and handily sold-out shows.

The backstory: In 2005, musician Sufjan Stevens moved to Ditmas Park, a community not lacking in instrumentalists. Soon, he became friends with Aaron and Bryce Dessner of The National, the latter of whom suggested Stevens rearrange his 2001 sophomore album “Enjoy Your Rabbit,” a collection of 14 electronic instrumental pieces each inspired by a different animal of the Chinese Zodiac, for neighbors Rob Moose, Olivier Manchon, Marla Hansen and Maria Bella Jeffers – collectively known as the Osso Quartet – who had recently collaborated with Stevens on his 2005 release “Illinois,” as well as My Brightest Diamond’s “Bring Me the Workhorse.”

Rework they did, and over the next few years they recruited young composers including Nico Muhly, Michael Atkinson, Maxim Moston and Gabriel Kahane to rearrange the pieces for live instruments.

Those efforts have culminated in the album, “Run Rabbit Run,” out earlier this month on Stevens’ own Asthmatic Kitty Records, which imaginatively captures the glitches and white noise of the original album in squeaks on the bow and a crescendo of hissing, while adding a human, and thus more emotional, element to the source material.

Today, the quartet is comprised of Jeffers (cello) and Hansen (viola), as well as violinists Jannina Barefield and Brooke Quiggins, as they tour the country in support of the album, including a stop at the Bell House in Gowanus November 7.

With other local shows on the tour, which also include a screening of Stevens’ 2007 documentary “The BQE,” a symphonic and cinematic homage to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, selling out, the musicians looked around for another location to add and fell on the Bell House. There, they will play selections of “Run Rabbit Run,” followed by a screening of the film.

“We’re looking forward to that one a lot,” says Jeffers of the Bell House show. “Other spaces, you have to be there and be serious. This one, you can be there and have fun.”

The shows weren’t easy to arrange, as the four women all have full performance careers, going between the experimental and classical worlds, with members of the quartet linked with DM Stith, Mocky, My Brightest Diamond, the New Pornographers, Jay-Z and Kanye West. And though the musicians are juggling multiple projects, the quartet hopes to create original material and continue the collaboration.

“It’s so fun to be a string quartet that is a band. You’re not backing anybody up, you’re not augmenting some idea, but being the central idea. It’s just a really different animal,” says Jeffers. “This is our chamber music thing where we get to be our own selves and rock out.”

Osso Quartet play the Bell House (149 7th St.) November 7 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $12. Also includes a screening of Sufjan Stevens’ “The BQE.” For more information, call 718-643-6510.


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