Short Stories = IVES: String Quartet No. 1; JENNIFER HIGDON: Short Stories; FRED STURM: Picasso Cubed; MICHAEL TORKE: July 1995; DAVID BIXLER: Heptagon; CARLETON MACY: Elusive Dreams; JELLY ROLL MORTON: Black Bottom Stomp – Ancia Sax Quartet – Naxos

by | Sep 12, 2009 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

Short Stories = IVES: String Quartet No. 1 (1st movement); JENNIFER HIGDON: Short Stories; FRED STURM: Picasso Cubed; MICHAEL TORKE: July (1995); DAVID BIXLER: Heptagon; CARLETON MACY: Elusive Dreams; JELLY ROLL MORTON: Black Bottom Stomp – Ancia Saxophone Quartet/ Dee Langley, accordion – Naxos 8.559616, 63:59 ****:

This is an excellent collection of modern saxophone quartets written by some notable and exceptional composers. The title track Short Stories is also the best and most substantive piece on this disc. Jennifer Higdon is a much-admired composer—at least by me—and has created some outstanding orchestral and chamber works. It is heartening to see that she has not snubbed her nose at the idea of a sax quartet but has instead written a major work (26 minutes) of import and depth. The piece, from 1995, is a series of vignettes giving aural descriptions of little couple-of-lines stories. In six movements, we have “Chase”, “Summer’s Eve”, “Lullaby”, “Splashing the Canvass”, “Coyote Nights”, and “Stomp and Dance”, each of them as blatantly descriptive as can be without being too obvious. But then again, part of the enjoyment is how redolent the music is of these stories, supplied in depth in the notes. This is an outstanding work.

The others are quite short, the longest (Heptagon) clocking in at just over eight minutes. This work is based on a three-note motive-cell which is used in each of its seven movements creating remarkably diverse music. Picasso Cubed is a “redoing” of Coleman Hawkin’s 1948 unaccompanied tenor sax solo Picasso, dissecting and reassembling the improvisation in an unusual but highly sophisticated (and easily assimilated) way. Elusive Dreams features the only outsider instrument, an accordion, as the five instruments search for a tango buried in the musical materials—you will have to decide for yourselves whether they find it.

Jelly Roll Morton figures legendarily into many compositions these days, but here we have an arrangement of his Black Bottom Stomp inspired by a big band arrangement. It is nicely executed and works well, and if you like Morton you have no reason to avoid this. Finally, and opening the disc, is an arrangement of Charles Ives’s first movement of his First String Quartet, very well displayed here and lacking nothing that Ives would feel is missing. How could he, the master of sonority and eclectic composition that he was. The sound on this disc has just the right amount of air around each instrument. The Ancia Quartet, based in Minneapolis, has been around since 1990, and their unanimity of ensemble and complementary tonal qualities certainly testify to long experience in the field. Enthusiastically recommended. 

— Steven Ritter  

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