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The Will Patton Ensemble, String Theory 

(King Hill Music, CD)

String Theory, the latest from multi-instrumentalist Will Patton, should nudge one of Vermont's best-kept secrets a little further into the spotlight. In addition to Patton's considerable skills, the disc features some of the state's finest players -- guitarist Steve Blair, stand-up bassist Clyde Stats, violinist David Gusakov and drummer Steve Wienert. Each track on the album flows together seamlessly, touching upon European Gypsy music and Brazilian choro along the way. Production credit goes to Patton and Andre Maquera of West Street Digital in Fairfield.

Opener "Cecil Swing" -- one of two tracks written by and featuring French Gypsy guitarist Ninine Garcia -- feels familiar but avoids sounding derivative. Focused but unconstricted, the tune plays like Django Reinhardt and an eight-piece samba band jamming on a Vermont porch.

Patton plays several stringed instruments, but it's the liquid grace of his mandolin work that truly dazzles. His instrumental dexterity is trumped only by his compositional prowess. Patton's self-penned sambas and choros sound perfectly natural next to the jazz standards by Sonny Rollins and Horace Silver here. Listeners unfamiliar with Rollins' "No Moe" might find it to hard to distinguish it from Patton's own creations -- and some might wonder how the tune ever could have featured a saxophone. Silver's "Calcutta Cutie" is likewise brilliant, featuring dreamy, melodic strings that could send shivers down even the stiffest of spines.

The most magical moments on String Theory come when these talented musicians surpass the usual boundaries of their instruments. Violin scratches and mandolin drones create moments of eerie beauty, all the while defying convention. Patton's daughter Anna plays some especially sensual clarinet on two cuts, one of which, "Choro for Rachel," is dedicated to the late Burlington songstress Rachel Bissex.

The sole low point on the record is its closing track, "Isabel." The disc's slowest cut, it sounds too much like something you might hear as background music on the Weather Channel. Still, it underscores just how varied the album is.

String Theory features impeccably voiced waltzes and frenetic swing, but it offers listeners more than just a display of chops. Firm believers in the sacredness of sound, Patton & co. also understand that silence can be just as beautiful. Here's to their accomplishment.

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