Last week, I wrote about the snag I had hit working on a new saxophone quartet.  I had a good overall concept, but the musical ideas weren’t gaining traction.  Stubborn cus that I am, I had decided to keep digging into them to see if any of them would take hold.

Seems like now I have a clean set of cleats.

Stepping back a bit: I had a commission for a piece for saxophone quartet with the request that it should have something to do with the Mediterranean (I know, sounds weird, but bear with me and I’ll explain it — eventually).  I could have done any number of things having to do with cultures surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, but I felt the need to work a bit closer to home.  I’ve only spent a few hours on the Mediterranean, and it was more than ten years ago, so I didn’t feel a strong personal connection to the requested theme.

I have, on the other hand, spent my entire life on the planet Earth (though some might argue otherwise), and I feel a very powerful sense of devotion and concern for this funny little world.  So I began sketching a piece called Terrenean Meditation, a musical musing on the dirt beneath us and the sky above.

They asked for a Mediterranean theme, and what are they going to get?  A pun.

So that was the overall concept.  Trouble was, the material I was coming up with for saxophone quartet was pretty weak.  After some aimless futzing, I had one little fragment for tenor sax that I thought had a tiny bit of promise.  There was just one problem: I had a nagging sense that the tempo I was hearing for it was actually too fast for it to have the effect I was looking for.

What did I do?  I emailed said fragment to Taimur Sullivan, asking for feedback on the tempo.  He wrote back to tell me that what I had sent was certainly playable.  Yes, I replied, playable – but will it sound fantastic or clunky?

A short while later, my inbox shimmied, and there was an mp3 of Taimur playing my little fragment.  I listened, and the entire piece came to me in a flash.

The fragment I sent him was, as I feared, a bit clunky, but something about hearing him play it turned a key in my brainlock.   I immediately heard how my mindset was wrong, and how to fix it.  That fragment is now gone, absorbed into an exhilarating, delirious texture of spinning figures, a hyper-fast planetary rotation on a constantly shifting axis. Now, a few days later, the piece is practically done.

Incidentally, if you are looking for a masterclass on what a saxophone quartet can do, you can do no better than a new disk called Dedication that Taimur slipped into my hands yesterday.  I don’t think it’s been officially released yet.  The disk has one-minute pieces composed in 2004 for the Prism Quartet by Tim Berne, William Bolcom, Zack Browning, Robert Capanna, Donnacha Dennehy, Dennis DeSantis, Nick Didkovsky, Jason Eckardt, Roshanne Etezady, Reneé Favand-See, Perry Goldstein, Jennifer Higdon, Libby Larsen, Matthew Levy, Keith Moore, Greg Osby, Frank J. Oteri, James Primosch, Tim Ries, Adam Silverman, Ken Ueno, Gregory Wanamaker, and Chen Yi. Whatever you want, it’s in here.  I can’t find an image of it online yet, so here’s a snapshot of it on my (yes it’s green) desk.  Look for it on the innova label this spring.

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