String Planet,
String Planet
(Tone Science, 2004)

String Planet is the self-titled debut of a group led by the husband-and-wife team of Novi Novog and Larry Tuttle.

Novog plays the viola, slightly larger than a violin and used more for harmony than lead melody in orchestras. Tuttle plays the Chapman stick, a long, narrow instrument strung like a guitar but tapped instead of plucked or strummed. There are six melody and six bass strings, so an experienced performer can sound as if a guitar and bass were playing at the same time. The CD is rounded out by others including world percussionists, keyboardists and vocalists.

The music is not as unusual as you might expect from such a pairing of lead instruments. The website calls it a combination of "classical, jazz, new age, pop and world elements." There are touches of all that in these 13 compositions written by Tuttle.

This quote by Tuttle provides a better feel for the music: "My composing mostly comes out of my background in pop music, so I generally write songs with a verse/chorus/bridge structure, going for that hooky pop song appeal."

This material is based in pop, mostly led by Novog. It is not bad (except the two songs with vocals), but it is lighter and more conventional than you might expect from a Stick player and someone with a resume like Novog's. She has appeared both on recording and stage with musicians that include Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, Stanley Clarke and John Mayall.

There is a lot of impressive Stick playing by Tuttle. If you did not read the CD sleeve, you might easily think that his parts were played by two musicians, a guitarist and a bass player. At times he sounds just like an expert funk bassist. He often uses effects to make his Stick a truly amazing instrument.

Novog combines lovely melodies with a decent flair for improvisation. She uses many playing techniques to vary her sound.

The two songs with vocals are marred by saccharine lyrics. On "All That I Want," for instance: "I can see clearly/But I don't understand/I got nothin' to offer/And there's nothin' in my hand/All that I want/And all that I need/I love you dearly/Do you understand?"

There is a similarity to the other 11 instrumental tracks, but Novog and Tuttle do a pretty good job of providing variety, changing tempos and beats for each piece. For example, "The Race" uses three other musicians to make Novog part of a string quartet.

Bouncy and pleasant, this CD should appeal to fans of smooth jazz and acoustic music.

- Rambles
written by Dave Howell
published 11 June 2005

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