Posts Tagged “saxophone”

cd cover

 

PRISM Quartet

Dedication

innova records

Timothy McAllister, soprano saxophone; Zachary Shemon, alto saxophone; Matthew Levy, tenor saxophone; Taimur Sullivan, baritone saxophone

 

  • Roshanne Etezady: Inkling
  • Zack Browning: Howler Back
  • Tim Ries: Lu
  • Gregory Wanamaker: speed metal organum blues
  • Renee Favand-See: isolation
  • Libby Larsen: Wait a Minute
  • Nick Didkovsky: Talea, Stink Up! (PolyPrism 1 and 2)
  • Greg Osby: Prism #1
  • Donnacha Dennehy: Mild, Medium-Lasting, Artificial Happiness
  • Ken Ueno: July 23
  • Adam B. Silverman: Just a Minute, Chopin
  • William Bolcom: Scherzino
  • Matthew Levy: Three Miniatures
  • Jennifer Higdon: Bop
  • Dennis DeSantis: Hive Mind
  • Robert Capanna: Moment of Refraction
  • Keith Moore: OneTwenty
  • Jason Eckhardt: A Fractured Silence
  • Frank J. Oteri: Fair and Balanced?
  • Perry Goldstein: Out of Bounds
  • Tim Berne: Brokelyn
  • Chen Yi: Happy Birthday to PRISM
  • James Primosch: Straight Up

I don’t think there are enough words to describe the technical precision, the unity of sonic intent, the musicality, and the timbral facility present in the Prism Quartet’s playing. Fortunately for me, I don’t really need the words; I have this disc instead. These 23 compositions, all short and wonderfully focused, paint a wonderful aural picture of this amazing sax quartet. The slithering of Roshanne Etezady’s Inkling showcases the extreme fluidity of their sound and as soon as it is over – BAM – we are hit with the spiky and strident Howler Black by Zack Browning. Adam B. Silverman’s Just a Minute, Chopin is as tender and expressive as Gregory Wanamaker’s speed metal organum blues is not, yet Prism sounds like they were born to play both. Compositions using lots of extended techniques like Ken Ueno’s July 23… (the full title takes longer to read than it takes to listen to the piece) and Jason Eckardt’s A Fractured Silence are gorgeous and rich sounding. The composers’ voices are strong and resonant and Prism plays these works as if no effort was involved (the effort for these pieces is considerable). Frank Oteri’s Fair and Balanced? exploits Prism’s pitch and tuning control with his four microtonal movements. By the time the disc is over, you’ll think there is nothing the Prism Quartet can’t do. And you’d be right.

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CD coverThe Calls of Gravity

music of David Laganella

The Prism Quartet, Marilyn Nonken, Ensemble CMN

New Focus Recordings

  • Leafless Trees – The Prism Quartet
  • The Hidden River – Marilyn Nonken
  • Unattainable Spaces – Ensemble CMN
  • The Persistence of Light – Marilyn Nonken
  • Sundarananda – Ensemble CMN

These recent works by composer David Laganella feature a constant nattering of activity full of motion and gestures and with very little stability or repose. Leafless Trees is an energetic and coloristic set of miniature toccatas for saxophone quartet. The Prism Quartet are clearly at home here as they make the acrobatics and difficult timbral shifts sound fluid and organic. The quartet is a showy virtuosic piece and I found that I wanted to listen to the individual sound worlds of each movement for a greater amount of time that Laganella had composed.

Marilyn Nonken’s two performances (The Hidden River and The Persistence of Light) features almost constant activity and flow as is fitting to the compositions’ inspirations. Both pieces function with their own internal logic through a linear form that eschews repetition for constant development. These pieces are based on textures instead of gestures with broad dramatic shapes to guide the listener. Harmonies are dense clusters which occasionally relax into softer sounds. As a whole, Laganella uses the piano as a single voice with very little use of large-scale polyphony. The smaller gestures that make up the whole composition are again appropriate given his inspirations of water and light.

Unattainable Spaces stays true to the sound world that Laganella has presented thus far. Tight dissonances are the glue that bind this ensemble (string trio, clarinet, and percussion) into a single unified instrument. The language is equally sinewy and slippery as it progresses from one moment to the next. In a refreshing change of pace, the final composition played by Ensemble CMN has smooth edges and a more tender touch. Sundarananda for flute, cello, and guitar, is a compellingly understated piece built of slower moving lyrical lines sometimes punctuated by more hectic activity. The trio waxes and wanes and is full of breath. Short spiky gestures that become the mainstay of Laganella’s later compositions (this work is the earliest on the disc – 2004) are given resonant space. A tight control over the dramatic arch is still maintained. I’m not sure what has happened in the past 7 years to move Laganella’s music into a more hectic and manic direction but I hope he will still draw upon the serene contemplations he had when composing Sundarananda.

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Glint

Timothy McAllister, saxophone

Innova 764

Lucia Unrau, piano; Robert Spring, clarinet

I knew Timothy McAllister’s recently released CD, Glint, was a hit when it grabbed me through my Jeep’s speakers as I drove down the highway. An athletic, delicate and powerful performance, Glint showcases Mr. McAllister’s command of the full sonic potential of his instrument. Along these lines, the works featured on the album cast a wide net over the landscape of contemporary music, making Glint a must-listen for any composer with plans of working with saxophone, regardless of aesthetic preferences.

The CD plays like a recital one would never forget, and samples a wide variety of instrumental combinations, soloistic colors and modern musical styles. For example, Caleb BurhansEscape Wisconsin (2006), Roshanne Etehazy’s Glint (2006) and Gregory Wanamaker’s Duo Sonata (2002) represent the kind of groove-oriented saxophone music I’ve observe to be very popular for saxophones, though, each of the three are very different. Escape Wisconsin is heavily rooted in repeated rhythms and melodic figures, as is the first movement of Mr. Wanamaker’s Duo Sonata, though this piece quickly departs to explore beautiful two-part counterpoint and – ultimately – the blues. Ms. Etehazy’s Glint is a tightly wound composing-out of an opening string of triplets, and presents – much like Mr. Wanamaker’s Duo Sonata – the nearly identical sounds of clarinet, played by Robert Spring, and saxophone in varied combinations.

Offering a more aggressive and abstract sound are Kristin Kuster’s Jellyfish (2004), Kati AgócsAs Biddeth Thy Tongue (2006) and Daniel Asia’s The Alex Set (1995). Ms Agócs’ and Mr. Asia’s works are perfect large-scale solo works, particularly As Biddeth Thy Tongue which feels like a dramatic soliloquy and possesses a wide expressive range thanks to is juxtaposition of great lyricism and extended techniques. The Alex Set similarly opposes the saxophone’s sweetness and rhythmic facility within a more rigid structure of expository set pieces separated by contemplative interludes. Ms. Kuster’s Jellyfish is one of two works on the CD that pairs Mr. McAllister with piano, played by Lucia Urnau. The work flows smoothly through three movements, and the first – “medusa” – is compellingly indecisive, vacillating between capricious, fast gestures and slower, recitative-esque passages. This is followed by the sincere and elegiac aria, “blob” –some of the most profound music on the CD – and then closes with the piano and saxophone working almost as one line on the light and mecurial, “thimbles”.

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Music for Saxophone and Piano by Rueff, Anderson, Heiden, Davis, Feld

Kenneth Fischer, saxophone
Martha Thomas, piano

Aca Digital Recording

Surprising to think at this late date that the saxophone should still be looking for respectability as a solo classical instrument, at least in some circles. You would certainly have gotten an argument on that score from the late Kenneth Fischer (d. December 9, 2009) whose masterful, virtuosic performances on the present program make the strongest possible case for the instrument. Together with his frequent recital partner Martha Thomas, Fischer gives a veritable clinic in the extraordinary things that all his saxophones – alto, soprano, and Eb – can be made to do.

Chanson et Passepied by French composer Jeanine Rueff (b.1922) leads off the program in fine style with its charming, arching melody that is re-cast in dance time in the second half by changing the meter and tempo. It’s followed by the two Sonatas for Alto Saxophone and Piano by Tommy Joe Anderson (b.1947), both characterized by pithy expression and a wise economy of means. No. 1 is basically a serial composition based on the hexachord Eb-G-E-A-D-Bb. My favorite section of this rhythmically alert piece is the third, marked “Fast, with a jazzy feeling.” Sonata No. 2 is marked by confrontation between the two instruments, in which sax and piano react to each other’s points of contention, with some scope allowed for controlled aleatoric measures. (If you think I’m going to define “aleatoric,” you’re nuts: look it up!)

The oldest work on the program, and the one that most consistently has the “feel” of a modern classic, is the 1937 Sonata for Alto Saxophone and Piano by Bernhard Heiden (1910-2000). The composer studied with Paul Hindemith, and this was one of his first compositions after leaving Germany. The jaunty, bluesy mood of this music reminds us what a hotbed Berlin was for creative modernism in all the arts just prior to the rise of the Third Reich. Highly melodic and flavorfully dissonant, with its remote tone centers and richly chromatic melodies, this engaging work has a nice swing to it that Fischer and Thomas never fail to communicate.

I’m not nearly as fond of Declaration for Soprano Saxophone and Piano by William Davis (b.1948) with its strangulated sounds resulting from such compositional techniques as timbre alternation on a single note, quarter notes, and, especially, saxophone multiphonics. The latter can be very hard to listen to, particularly in the repeated references to the motif BACH (that is, Bb-A-C-B) that, in the context, sound more satirical than reverential. (Come to think of it, J.S. Bach, who was known in his day for his hot temper, once challenged a bassoonist to a swordfight for playing his instrument like a “nanny goat.” One shudders to think what he might have done to Davis, were he still living!) At least we can say that Fischer’s technique here is really impressive, and Thomas has some fine moments with inside-the-piano multiphonics. Still, one has to wonder what Davis had in mind with this 15-minute rhapsody in a single movement.

I’ve never warmed up to the music of Czech composer Jindrich Feld (1925-2007) whose unique way with 12-tone composition, used here in a non-conventional way that eschews the use of strict tone rows, other listeners have found engaging. His Élégie for Soprano Saxophone and Piano struck me, on the contrary, as rather hesitant in its terse expression. Still, I found four of six works on this program to be attractive and engaging, at least as Kenneth Fischer and Martha Thomas present them. At the end of the day, that’s not a bad average.

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Vivian Houle, vocalist Treize

Treize

Drip Audio


  1. Mandrake (with Peggy Lee, cello)
  2. Molehills mumps (with Lisa miller, piano)
  3. Paperthin (with Coat Cooke, saxophone)
  4. Gratte-moi le dos (with Kenton Loewen, drums)
  5. Quiet eyes (with Ron Samworth, guitar)
  6. It’s not the moon (with Chris Gestrin, analog keyboards and live sampling)
  7. Betters and bads (with Jesse Zubot, violin)
  8. Finely tuned is my heart (with Jeremy Berkman, trombone)
  9. Au revas (with Paul Plimley, piano)
  10. A little storm (with Jeff Younger, guitar)
  11. Bells hung in a tree (with Clyde Reed, bass)
  12. Song not for you (with Brent Belke, guitar)
  13. Curve (with Stefan Smulovitz, kenaxis)

The very essence of chamber music is perfectly captured in these thirteen tracks. Viviane Houle’s duets with each of these artists is raw music making – free improvisations that transcend the ordinary and provide sonic experiences unlike anything else.  Houle’s sonic repertoire is no short of astonishing.  Half of the time I can’t tell which sounds she is making and which are being made by her instrumental counterpart.  On the same token, both performers on each track are so adept at listening to each other that the flow of events sounds totally organic and alive.  While the bulk of the tracks are showcases for Houle’s vocal fireworks she is always blending with the ensemble and creating a sonic “hyperinstrument” that is neither one nor the other.

A few of the tracks feature a more traditional melodic and sung role for the voice.  Houle, who also wrote all the texts, trends towards the smokey and hazy sounds of somber jazz or beat poetry.  Her rich sound and warm emotional expressions are further featured on one of my favorite tracks, It’s not the moon. Houle’s voice is the DNA of Chris Gestrin’s synth work creating a haunting, graceful, and eternal sounding track.

The last three tracks on the disc transition smoothly from one to the next, making an excellent journey.  Bells hung in a tree has a subdued ending that sounds like it continues as the next track fades in.  Song not for you hits me right in my Heavy Metal spot.  Houle and Belke sound like a great thrashing metal duo from somewhere in the Oort Cloud who have recently learned to sing using random Japanese phonemes (and I mean that in the best possible way).  The thrash continues while the ambient sizzle of Curve takes over.  Like It’s not the moon, Curve puts Houle’s voice in the background and she inexorably emerges from the synthetic world into an oozing and pulsating mass of delicious aural goo.

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thelema trioThelema Trio

Ward De Vleeschhower, piano; Peter Verdonck, saxophones, and Marco Antonio Mazzini, clarinets

Music by Junchaya, Lee, Carpenter, Honor, Mazzini, Walczyk, and Benadon

innova records

  • Rafael Leonardo Junchaya – Tres Danzas Episkénicas
  • HyeKyung Lee – Shadowing
  • Keith Carpenter – The Devil His Due
  • Eric Honour – neither from nor towards
  • Marco Antonio Mazzini – Imprevisto
  • Kevin Walczyk – Refractions
  • Fernando Benadon – Five Miniatures

The Thelema Trio’s modular nature, even within the context of being a trio, is one of its primary strengths and they  strut their stylistic, coloristic, versatile stuff with this collection of pieces.  No two works share the same instrumentation nor do any of the compositions share the same sound world.  The only performer not showcased with a solo feature of some sort is the pianist but Ward De Vleeschhouwer is a superb collaborative artist who can highlight his abilities within a chamber music setting.  Peter Verdonck has excellent tone and energy on alto, tenor, and baritone saxophones and Marc Antonio Mazzini has a lithe and supple sound on standard or bass clarinet.  Together, the two reed players have a perfectly communal sound quality.

Each piece on the disc showcases the Thelema Trio’s mercuriality.  Rafael Leonardo Junchaya’s Tres Danzas Episkénicas is equal parts sultry, ethereal and playful.  This work uses the most instruments overall with the reeds changing from bass clarinet to clarinet and use of baritone and tenor saxophones.  Overall, these dances are attractive, slightly thorny pitch language and extremely well orchestrated.

HyeKyung Lee’s Shadowing is a canonic/imitative work for clarinet and alto saxophone.  Long melodic lines weave in and out with sinewy and twisty motions.  The blend between the performers is spot on and the whole piece has great long-term trajectory.  The high climax reached early on in the work is the exact right music at the exact right time.  Keith Carpenter’s raucous The Devil His Due for baritone sax and piano is a punchy, aggressive, and energetic toccata for the two instruments.  Instead of the baritone sax being the “front man” of the piece, both instruments engage in funky rhythmic interplay.

The title track on the CD, neither from nor towards, is an extended rhapsody for baritone sax, clarinet, and piano written by Eric Honour.  This obsessive piece spends a lot of time spinning its wheels (in a good way) where the music is, indeed, neither from anywhere nor moving towards anywhere.  Long overlapping tones in the reeds and mid-range piano are broken by the occasional spiky piano accents in extreme registers.  Gradually a melody emerges and by the halfway point we are in a soaring, melodic section.  The soaring becomes frenetic, dies down, but then trashes around with one last outburst.  If you were to drop in on any single section of the piece, you might wonder how it all fits together.  But listening to the complete work, Eric Honour draws an excellent through-line.  The programming for this piece is perfect since it showcases not only the coloristic blend between the reeds but also the rhythmic punctuation possibilities found in earlier works.

The only solo composition on the disc, Marco Antonio Mazzini’s Imprevisto sounds like music we aren’t really supposed to be hearing.  The slow unfolding work for clarinet gives the impression that we are eavesdropping on the performer while they worked out musical/emotional stuff.  This piece is haunting and captivating.  Refractions, by Kevin Walczyk, brings back some playful and bouncy music back to the disc.  The motoric repeated notes in the piano provide a platform for melodies and shapes in the alto sax and clarinet.  The energy is constantly pushing forward, even when the music slows and becomes more tender.  The light and springy material returns to close out the composition.

Finally, the Five Miniatures for baritone sax, bass clarinet, and piano by Fernando Benadon are delightfully quirky pieces that present a focal idea, perseverate upon said idea, and then vanish.  Niether of the five movements feels underwritten and, while one might hear how each idea could become longer, I think it would destroy the chiseled nature of these pieces.  There is a lot of fun and whimsy in their brevity, making this piece the perfect waft of light flavor after a satisfying meal.

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