Jim Connolly and the Gove County String Quartet

At Center Stage Theater, Sunday, July 2.

Reviewed by Charles Donelan

Some time early in Sunday night’s performance, Jim Connolly took
responsibility for announcing the program from the stage. “We
didn’t do a program,” he said. “I am the program.” And so he

As leader and composer for the entire evening, Connolly was the
program and the life of the party. His music — in this instance
written mostly for a string quartet consisting of bass (Connolly),
viola (Kirsten Monke), and violins (Sally Barr and Laura Hackstein)
— puts serious compositional ideas and talent to work producing
pleasure, and lots of it. If you had to locate it on a musical map,
you might look for Connolly’s sound somewhere south of classical
and west of jazz, out where cartoon eccentrics like Raymond Scott
and oversized Romantics like Charles Mingus meet and celebrate.
Connolly dedicated the evening to the memory of UCSB philosophy
professor Hubert Schwyzer, a cellist and an avid supporter of
chamber music.

Connolly’s elegant, sensuous bass-playing is the glue that holds
all of Gove County together. Whether he is propelling the entire
ensemble with a plucked walking figure, or providing the warm
buzzing support for beautiful melodic variations, his sound remains
unique and instantly recognizable. In addition to playing a lovely
double bass, Connolly has written a significant quantity of string
quartet music, and one of the many virtues of this evening was that
we got to hear a substantial helping of it. With several pieces
both before and after the intermission, the Gove County String
Quartet was clearly the focus of the program. The progression was
from dark and Romantic, with a nod to Lennon and McCartney, to
light and nimble, as in a wonderfully witty arrangement of the
theme song from Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood called “Why Won’t
You Be My Neighbor?”

The evening’s finale came when the quartet was joined onstage by
even more friends of Jim for something he calls the Gove County
Philharmonic. This expanded group allowed Connolly to explore
textures and tempos more suited to the clarinet, piano, and even
accordion. The Philharmonic numbers retained Connolly’s funky stamp
of individuality, and his bass-playing became, if possible, even
more swinging and irresistible. Gove County may be in Kansas, but
we are lucky that, thanks to Jim Connolly, Santa Barbara can bask
in a Gove County state of mind.


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