Ken Waxman of JAZZWORD just reviewed HYDRA ENSEMBLE’s VISTAS album, out on A New Wave Of Jazz. Order it here.

“Reformatting and reimaging the string ensemble – one of the key configuration of Western music – is what unites these absorbing sessions. Coming from different countries and reconstituting the groups in unique ways is what makes each session equally fascinating. With an immersion in notated and aleatoric music is the Rotterdam-based Hydra Ensemble. Its make-up includes two cellists: Swiss Nina Hitz and Croatian Lucija Gregov, Portuguese double bassist Gonçalo Almeida and Dutch electronics artist Rutger Zuydervelt. All have familiarity with the improv world, with the bassist also a member of bands like Spinifex. Although Vistas is far removed from mainstream Jazz, its electro-acoustic, string-oriented five-part suite still reflects the music in its broadest sense. That’s because the thumping vibrations and sul tasto slices from Almeida set up one paradigm, while the crackling and droning voltage  pulses set up another with the two cellos negotiating in-between. These sul tasto string expositions squeak like bed springs alongside Zuydervelt’s live processed electronic hisses and crackles during “Vista II”  until they join with the double bass for speedier cross pulses that usher in more extended and swifter techniques. Layering Almeida’s stentorian plucks with shifting cello techniques. including string loosening and shakes, unison allegrissimo slices moves past electronic wave forms to reach a penultimate sequence that lacerates the narrative with triple stopping and col legno woody slaps. As ring modulator-like clanging and intermittent oscillated whistles further fragment the theme, it’s up to mandolin-like frails from the cellist to reassert a linear melody. The concluding “Vista V” firmly knits these strands. Measuring programmed animalistic howls and near-verbal mumbles with more formalized unison string patterns, both contributions to the improvisation are highlighted. Stretching the exemplar still further in the final sequence, the tempo skyrockets to prestissimo, the cellos twang and stretch string strops in contrapuntal challenges to twists and vibrating voltage tones as stolid double bass stops hold together timbral differences until the group improvisation stops, starts again and fades away. String ensembles may be as generic as ballads to Western Music, yet these group show how much beyond the expected can be accomplished with forethought and skill.” Jazzword – Canada