Berkeley violinist Irene Sazar explores melodies, rhythms and arrangements from all over the world

By Andrew Gilbert

Berkeley violinist Irene Sazer has worked with a mind-boggling array of artists, from Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra and Ray Charles to Ali Akbar Khan, David Grisman and Bjork. In founding her own band, she wanted a vehicle to explore all the far-flung sounds and styles that pique her interest.

The Real Vocal String Quartet, which performs on Sunday at Freight & Salvage, has turned into an ideal forum for her globetrotting ways. The group brings together some of the Bay Area’s most versatile musicians, including violinist Alisa Rose (Quartet San Francisco), violinist/violist Dina Maccabee (Ramon and Jessica), and cellist Jessica Ivry (Amy X Neuburg and the Cello ChiXtet).

As the name implies, the quartet combines extraordinary string work with gorgeous four-part vocal harmonies, accompanied by foot stomps and percussive bow techniques. Erasing distinctions between old-time and new music, all four women contribute compositions and arrangements, exploring melodies and rhythms from Brazil, East and West Africa, Appalachia and the Balkans.

A founding member of the jazz-steeped Turtle Island String Quartet, Sazer also likes to throw in several impromptu pieces at each performance. Expect a batch of new material, as the quartet is preparing to record its second album, following up on 2009’s acclaimed self-named debut.

After a quiet period, the group is on a roll, coming off of an intensive recording session in Big Sur with Canadian singer/songwriter Feist, who is featuring the ensemble on her upcoming album.

Andrew Gilbert lives in west Berkeley and covers music and dance for the San Jose Mercury News, Contra Costa Times, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe and East Bay Express.

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