Nobody bridges the gap between generations or musical genres like Sweet Plantain, a refreshingly new string quartet. Artfully fusing the Western classical traditions in which they were trained with the hip-hop, jazz improv, and Latin rhythms on which they were raised, their original writing and live shows educate and entertain. Separately hailing from the South Bronx, New Jersey, and Venezuela, together these musicians give voice to a sound that is contemporary, multicultural, and very New York.
The group's mission is to give voice to a contemporary, urban, Latino sound, and so much of the group's repertoire is rooted in improvisation. The art of improvisation, once an integral part of western classical music, has all but been abandoned in the training and performance of classical artists, although it continues to occupy an important role in nearly every other musical genre. Sweet Plantain therefore works to weave the possibilities of improvisation into classical music by arranging existing pieces and writing original compositions that contain improvised sections. The group also makes use of extended percussive techniques, some of them original creations, to best achieve and showcase the rhythmic vitality characteristic of Latin music.
Highlights of their 2009–2010 seasons include collaborations with renowned cellist Borislav Strulev in a tour of Russia that will include a performance in Tchaikovsky Hall in Moscow; European engagements with virtuoso pianist/composer Matt Herskowitz, who was featured on the Grammy-nominated album The Swing of Christmas by Barry Manilow and whose playing can be heard on the acclaimed Grammy-nominated film The Triplets of Belleville; and numerous performances in North America, including Northeastern University; the University of Maryland; the Reston Center in Reston Virginia; the Craver Center in San Antonio, Texas; the 92nd Street Y, Tribecca; and the Sun Valley Center for the Arts, Sun Valley Idaho.
Past musical projects include recording with renowned composer Ryuichi Sakamoto on his score for the major motion picture Silk (starring Keira Knightly and Alfred Molina) and on the debut album of Sakamoto-produced Kotoringo, a pop/jazz singer/songwriter on the rise in Japan. Sweet Plantain collaborated with celebrated dance choreographer Bill T. Jones, and the Afro beat vanguards Antibalas to present a workshop for the genesis of the Broadway musical Fela! Sweet Plantain also had the privilege of presenting a concert in collaboration with Composers Concordance, debuting nine world premieres from such notable composers as Margaret Brouwer, Daron Hagen, Andy Brick, and Gene Pritsker. 2008 included performances as featured artists at the Columbia Festival of the Arts (Columbia, Maryland), the Endless Mountain Music Festival (Wellsboro, Pennsylvania), Utah State University, the Newburgh Jazz Series, and the Harrisburg Symphony Stroll (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania), as well as regular performances in venues throughout New York, including Joe's Pub, Drom, the Brooklyn Library, and the Harlem Stage.
The group's special commitment to the musical education of NYC youth has additionally found Sweet Plantain designing and running a new string program at the St. Ignatius School in the South Bronx, a neighborhood with one of the highest poverty rates in all of the United States. Also, in partnership with the legendary Tony Bennett's nonprofit organization Exploring the Arts, Sweet Plantain has been hosting public high school music student interns, or "apprentices," who regularly rehearse with the group and perform alongside the quartet at the end of each semester. Continuing its education work, the quartet performed their original music in the Chocolate Chip Chamber Music series, an engaging and interactive mini-concert for children (age range: toddlers to 6 year olds) in Park Slope, Brooklyn.