Zack Browning with the Sonata Islands Quartet – Soul Doctrine – Innova [Dist. by Naxos] 009, 51:15 [11/16/18] ****:
The Sonata Islands Quartet is not a typical chamber music foursome. Flautist Emilio Galante, guitarist Walter Zanetti, alto saxophonist Pepito Ros and pianist Andrea Dindo—four Italy-based musicians—formed the quartet to perform new music which sometimes has classical connections but also fits into the jazz-rock genre and avant-garde music which does not correspond smoothly into specific areas. Previous projects include an homage to Rock in Opposition composers; an album of unique Gustav Mahler interpretations; and other recordings which blend in art rock, free improvisation, and folk/world music influences.
The foursome has a kindred spirit with composer Zack Browning, an Associate Professor Emeritus of Music at the University of Illinois, who was approached by Galante in 2015 about a possible collaboration. Several concerts and two commissions later the result is this 51-minute studio date which consists of five extended pieces which flit from rock to jazz to neo-classical and beyond. Each composition is informed by myriad inspirations. The spinning 9:25 title track, according to the liner notes, is derived from musical material based on the conflict between the Christian Reformation and the Counter-Reformation. The three-part suite is comprised of distinct themes (one theme is constructed from a Jethro Tull prog-rock song). There is a free introduction; a feng shui-stimulated middle section; and a third and final section which offers a musical journey which represents a physical and spiritual union of the opposing religious forces.
Historical struggle also radiates through the ten-minute, three-part suite “Silent Crackdown,” an alto sax/piano duet which is a collection of musical ideas commemorating the February 28 Incident, also known as the 228 Incident, a 1947 anti-government uprising in Taiwan violently suppressed by the Chinese authorities. The massacre was a critical impetus for the Taiwan independence movement. The first compositional subset focuses on music played at Taiwanese funerals. The second segment juxtaposes six themes which also use feng shui as a compositional tool: one of the themes employs Thelonious Monk’s “Evidence” as a jumping-off point. The final part reiterates and applies variations from one of the motifs in the second segment. Resistance and bravery against all odds is also at the center of the nearly 13-minute “Unafraid,” a trio setting (flute, sax, piano) which reflects on women named Esther, some of whom fought persecution and tyranny (or their own inner demons). The multi-portioned arrangement includes fragments from Holocaust-era anthems; an adaptation of a Yiddish song; a slice from a Handel oratorio; music which emanates from an Esther Phillips rhythm and blues hit; and even a modified bit from Bob Marley’s reggae classic, “Get Up, Stand Up,” which is probably a nod to Esther Anderson, who had a huge impact on Jamaican music and film (and Marley’s career).
The oldest track is the 8:29 “Flute Soldier,” which Browning penned in 2006. This was the piece that Galante heard which initially sparked his interest in working with Browning. The liner notes explain how the composition explores an application of magic squares to the edgy, somewhat frenetic musical framework. This duet mixes Galante’s flute, which is at the forefront, with Dindo’s staccato rhythmic piano support. The album concludes with the aptly-named “Rock Furious,” commissioned by Galante and Zanetti in 2017. This electric guitar/flute duet is also infused by feng shui as well as astrology. RnB/soul singer Usher and Elvis Presley are touchstones utilized during the six thematic designs. Some may find a flute/electric guitar pairing somewhat minimal, but on the other hand this twosome provides an interesting combination of jazz and rock which is not often experienced.
Zack Browning – composer; Emilio Galante – flute (tracks 1, 3-5); Walter Zanetti – electric guitar (tracks 1, 5); Andrea Dindo – piano (tracks 1-3); Pepito Ros – alto saxophone (tracks 2, 4)
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