Boston Globe - February 15, 2006 - Richard Dyer

Firebird adds some spice to hot venue

SOMERVILLE -- ''This is better than Carnegie Hall," observed Kate Vincent, director of the Firebird Ensemble, looking around at her satisfied public in the basement of Redbones Barbecue in Davis Square Monday night. There is nothing like a plate of ribs to put an audience in a good mood, and they don't serve them at Carnegie Hall.

Playing a concert at Redbones fulfilled a longtime wish of Vincent and the Firebird Ensemble, a contemporary-music group dedicated to opening new avenues between living composers and the public, and people liked the idea so much they had to give two performances. For the occasion, Firebird chose a crossover program made up mostly of encore-type pieces and transcriptions -- the only criticism one could make was that this ''Meat the Composer" event was stronger on spicy sauces than on real meat. Fred Stadkey made ingenious arrangements of Disturbed's ''Remember" and Rage Against the Machine's ''Know Your Enemy," and David Claman turned out a terrific arrangement of Jimi Hendrix's ''Long Hot Summer Night"; percussionist Aaron Trant gave his virtuoso take on Frank Zappa's ''Black Page."

Today's best young classical players, and the Firebird Ensemble and its guests qualify, have grown up listening to jazz, rock, and pop, and they have no problem playing it: They have the chops, the energy, and the style for it. Someone cried out, ''Play 'Freebird!' " and the group had a transcription ready and did just that.

Mimi Rabson, who teaches at Berklee, contributed a couple of clever pieces for string quartet (''Funk # 1" and ''King Street Tango," which takes Debussy's theme from ''The Afternoon of a Faun" and spins it through some dips, turns, and glides). Elizabeth Brown's cheerful ''Party of Two" found Trant playing his part on an electric coffee grinder. The most interesting piece was Ian Clark's ''Zoom Tube" for solo flute, a jazzy tune using extended techniques for the instrument (and flutist, who sings along, and uses her tongue to create a rhythm track as well). Alicia Di Donato, whose scarlet velvet top and black leather pants turned heads, gave it a drop-dead performance, fully a match for barbecued brisket.

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