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Maureen Choi Quartet: Theia

It is appropriate that Maureen Choi's career has included extensive teaching stints in New York City and her newer home base, Madrid. Both have a rich musical history bridging the body-moving and the cerebral. The Choi quartet honors both on their third outing Theia; it's a work overflowing with smarts which never forgets to aim for the heart and/or the feet as well.

"Phoenix Borealis" sets the tone right away by simmering in chamber jazz and then rising into the air—Choi's sawing becomes as grungy as a violin can get, making a fascinatingly wild coda to such a classy piece. The rest of the affair similarly honors both definitions of its title; besides being the mother of the sun and moon in Greek mythology, Theia was the name given to the planet that collided into primordial Earth and created our moon. With years of experience playing together, the band collides with the best kind of fission, sparking each other in stimulating ways.

The group's worldly mix of hooks and chops showcases Choi's fleet violin work to superb effect. Traditional Venezuelan music has a place alongside "Dear Paco (Cepa Andaluza)," a piece from/about the late and still-lamented Paco De Lucia. Spots such as "Sinner's Prayer" have her climbing to dizzying heights with Daniel García Diego's piano, weaving razor-sharp unison lines alternated with dynamic flights on their own. The slinky tango of "Canto Salamanchino" stomps effortlessly in odd time with handclapping joie de vivre.

Theia is a relentlessly disciplined affair, crossing classical roots with the heart-pounding excitement of jazz and tango. Choi and crew are endlessly versatile, from paying spirited homage to de Lucia to shredding like mad through "Bok Choi (Pajarillo)" to taking "September, the First" from quiet meditation to epic lament at cinematic scale. In any mode, it's a treat and a thrill.
Track Listing: Phoenix Borealis; Dance of the Fallen; Canto Salamanchino; Silverio O. García; Dear Paco (Cepa Andaluza); Sinner's Prayer; Love is the Answer; Bok Choi (Pajarillo); September, the First; Danza Ritual del Fuego.

Personnel: Maureen Choi: violin; Daniel García Diego: piano; Mario Carrillo: double bass; Michael Olivera: drums.