“Times and Spaces” – GLASS: Saxophone Quartet (1995); ITOH: Echolocation (2009); ROGER W. PETERSON: Chasing the Silence (2009); In Dreams; DAVID MacDONALD: Falling Up the Down Escalator (2009); JOHN MACKEY: Strange Humors (1998/rev. 2008) for sax quartet and djembe – The ‘h2’ saxophone quartet (Geoffrey Deibel, Kimberley Goddard, Jeffrey Loeffert, Jonathan Nichol, with Jon Weber, percussion) – Blue Griffin BGR 211 (Distr. by Albany), 53:09 ****:
All of the music on this fascinating new release, bears some connection to the concepts of time as an organizing tool and how rhythm and harmony serves to create, not fill, space – hence the title. The disc begins with a very solid reading of what is now a standard in this genre. The Philip Glass “Quartet” is vintage Glass and creates a beautiful palate of melody and trance like rhythms. This performance certainly rivals that on the original recording by the Rascher Quartet. The “Echolocation” by Takuma Itoh actually has some similarities in its overall effect to the Glass. Itoh, a student of William Bolcom, Stevn Stucky and Bright Sheng, created a piece written especially for ‘h2’ that is inspired by the sounds of electronic delay. The ‘delay’ effect serves as the theme as well as the catalyst for some extended range playing and other virtuostic delights. A middle section is intriguing and beautiful before the piece comes to a frantic conclusion.
There are two pieces by the San Francisco composer, Roger Peterson, on this disc. “Chasing the Silence” is built on an ascending motive around a constant tonal center of D. The tonal center is run through a series of attacks and some intense articulations, ebbing temporarily into something almost bluesy before its violent conclusion. Peterson’s “In Dreams” is actually an arrangement of a choral work that takes its text and title from “In dreams”, part of the larger “Songs of Travel” by Robert Louis Stevenson. The composer describes a series of “interweaving voices” and “diatonic dissonances” that create the framework for the piece. Overall, this piece is very pretty and fairly listener friendly. Both of these works make solid additions to the quartet genre.
David MacDonald’s “Falling Up the Down Escalator” seems influenced by jazz improvisation. There are moments of nice solo playing within the ensemble, especially in the tenor sax. The composer wanted to introduce some of he describes as “uncomfortable” notions (such as dissonances, pentuplets and intentionally vague rhythmic packaging) within a more comfortable context; such as blues-influenced melodies and harmonies.
This set concludes with the brief but wonderful “Strange Humors” by John Mackey. The piece opens with “Improvisations” – which are literally just that for an African djembe player and segues into the “humors”. The net effect is very evocative of both African as well as middle Eastern music. Originally intended as a dance piece, it is very attractive and conducive to choreography; a very enjoyable piece.
This whole disc is well-played, the music and order is well chosen and the sound quality is top notch! I recommend this, especially to saxophone fans, to anyone wanting to try something that lies very comfortably on the line between jazz and “modern” chamber music!
— Daniel Coombs