Eight quartets
Marc Mellits
Dan Becker
John Halle
Belinda Reynolds
Melissa Hui
Ed Harsh
Carolyn Yarnell
Randall Woolf
Friction Quartet
Catalog Number: 
#1 024
new classical
string quartet

San Francisco, CA

Release Date: 
May 10, 2019
Liner Notes: 
1 CD
One Sheet: 

Not quite a school, a movement, or a tribe, the composers that decided to form the Common Sense Composers’ Collective in 1993 nevertheless share musical and professional dreams and values that find strength together. As critic Kyle Gann once put it:

“Like aliens in a sci-fi movie scouring one planet after another for resources, Common Sense approaches an ensemble, raises money to commission all eight members, plays and maybe records the pieces, then moves on… This way, when one Common Sense member gets a commission, they all do… Smart thinking.”

Now in its third decade, the Collective has still got it going on, as its fifth album, Spark, amply demonstrates. It is kindled by the Oakland-based Friction Quartet, that spent many months breathing their own unique fire into the works. The group performs them here as if they had known these compositions all their lives. Their ability to move from virtuosic precision to a deep, timeless, almost telepathic mode of communication is remarkable.

The program opens with Marc Mellits’ Five, the beating heart of the album. This gentle lullaby serves as a doorway into a room filled with seven unique (and wide awake) offspring. 

Some of the composers in the Collective explore a kind of “Post post-minimalism”. In Dan Becker’s Lockdown, unruly rhythmic patterns fiercely try to break out of their metric cages, while in John Halle’s Sphere(‘s), any overt metric pulse disappears into the background while still holding together a swirling series of polyrhythmic phrases – all this in an attempt to exorcise two tunes by the ghost of jazz master Thelonius Monk. Belinda Reynolds’ Open takes another approach, simply letting Minimalist processes become the water that this elegant and beautiful creature swims in. Finally, Randall Woolf’s No Luck, No Happiness pulls both backward and forward in time, aiming to reinvent the Baroque trio sonata with violin, turntables, and drum machine.

Works by Melissa Hui and Carolyn Yarnell take a different approach. Here, a patient unfolding filled with rich silences and textural detail hold sway. Yarnell's Monographs invites us to enter a Zen-like austerity which blossoms into heartbreaking lyricism. Hui’s Map of Reality, a set of five short structured improvisations, dives into a deep exploration of the quartet’s sonic possibilities as if searching for the DNA of the musical material itself.

Finally, in his piece Trill, Ed Harsh brings together kinetic, rhythmic motion with sonically arresting passages; exploring the impulse to leave and return, over and over again.

The Common Sense Composers’ Collective is comprised of Dan Becker, John Halle, Ed Harsh, Melissa Hui, Marc Mellits, Randall Woolf, Belinda Reynolds, and Carolyn Yarnell. The group, now its third decade, has created over 70 new works, released four albums, and produced five new music marathons (Opus415) in the San Francisco Bay Area.




"There is, in other words, something here to please every palate, all assembled with wit and tenderness, and brought vividly to life by Friction." [FULL ARTICLE


"By now the reader should appreciate just how rich the content is on this new recording. Each of the eight compositions has its own unique approach to both structural technique and rhetorical expression; and it is more than a little unfair to try to digest them all in a single gulp, so to speak...I, for one, am delighted that they have all been served up in a single package!"  [FULL ARTICLE]


"That Spark has room for material as fundamentally different as Monographs and No Luck, No Happiness clearly says much about the range of expression accommodated by the artists operating within the Common Sense Composers' Collective purview." [FULL ARTICLE]


"Carolyn Yarnell’s two-part “Monographs” begins with the understated pointillistic pizzicatos of “Hiko” and closes with the gentle rhythms and undulating harmonies of “Angel on a Bridge,” themselves dotted with pizzicato accompaniment. These two connected and complementary movements possess a visionary spark. Traditional harmonies and folksy melodies mingle with modernistic effect in “Angel on a Bridge,” whose pastoral last section, introduced by a pair of koto-like accents, is vividly beautiful." [FULL ARTICLE


The performances are top notch, the compositions are weighty and well worth pondering, enjoying, experiencing. Very recommended. [FULL ARTICLE


"The contrasts in mood and style continue with Ed Harsh’s ferocious Trill, which is ambushed brilliantly by Bartókian accents at the end. ‘Hiko’, the first of Carolyn Yarnell’s two Monographs, is six minutes of perhaps not-so-random plucks amid uncertain silences. Her ‘Angel on a Bridge’ is just plain good-natured, after which Randall Woolf’s No Luck, No Happiness makes franken-Baroque noises that will make listeners understand why Stravinsky hated Vivaldi and HC Robbins Landon called for a pox on Manfredini." [FULL ARTICLE]