Tom Kerstens' G Plus Ensemble: Utopia (Real World/Southbound)

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Tom Kerstens: The Number 88
Tom Kerstens' G Plus Ensemble: Utopia (Real World/Southbound)

Although nominally a contemporary classical album -- English acoustic guitarist Kerstens and a string quartet -- this delightful, deep, meditative and probing album should find wide favour beyond the recital hall.

Kerstens has commissioned from outside the classical world for this debut of his G Plus ensemble (which includes The Tippett Quartet) and among the composers are New Zealander John Metcalfe who was the viola player in Vinnie Reilly's experimental Durutti Column out of Manchester and did some arrangements for Peter Gabriel's Scratch My Back project, and Joby Talbot was in The Divine Comedy.

In the liner notes Kerstens makes clear he didn't want "cross-over" music but compositions which were simply expressive in their own right, regardless of whether they referred to classical, pop, jazz or experimental traditions.

That is certainly what he got: these works float as almost stateless citizens living between all those worlds he mentions: elements of chamber pop alongside minimalism; dramatic, almost cinematic passages which wind down to the most refined solo moments, and Kerstens isn't averse using gentle digital delay to fine effect on some of Metcalfe's pieces.

It is unlikely you'll see this reviewed anywhere else, but if the idea of emotionally engrossing acoustic guitar and string ensemble music sounds like your thing don't let this one go past you.

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