Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The Colorado Saxophone Quartet’s Movie for the Ears

The new album 12 Preludes and Fugues by the Colorado Saxophone Quartet is a showcase for composer Michael Pagan’s seemingly boundless eclecticism, not to mention his sense of humor. There’s a centuries-old precedent for this: timbrewise, it’s just a little grittier than your typical wind ensemble. Imagine the baritone sax as the bassoon and the soprano as the oboe and you won’t be far off.  Most of these pieces clock in at around three minutes or less, many of them imaginatively interpolating elements of the baroque, jazz, and film music, frequently with trick endings and unexpected tempo shifts. Often the fugue will embellish the preceding prelude’s theme but just as often it’ll change the mood completely. The ensemble: Pete Lewis, Clare Church, Tom Myer, Andrew Stonerock and Kurtis Adams (yes, there are five in all, but apparently not all at once) – display an often stunning ability to get their fingers around all the styles here, some of which are pretty foreign to the saxophone. The album starts out baroque, goes in a darkly cinematic, more jazz-inflected direction, followed by brief detours into the Romantic era and 1950s latin pop.

The most stunning cut here is also the longest. Vividly alluding to the preceding fugue, Prelude IV expands on the noir atmosphere that will take centerstage throughout the following several segments, Bernard Herrmann as arranged by Gil Evans, maybe. Pagan’s use of interlocking voices is dizzying, to the point where the ensemble sounds many times larger than a simple four-piece. This segment is a suspense theme that goes up with an uneasy trill, then back down where it percolates darkly. Baritone sax maintains a magnificently burnished cello-like tone on the brooding fugue that comes afterward, followed by Prelude V which is actually a prelude and a fugue in itself, slow, methodical noir swing followed by a bustling, intricately orchestrated chase scene. A bit later, after a lull in the suspense, there’s a break with a baroque/jazz-infused tango, a jaunty ragtime/early swing number but without the cornball affectations, another series of noir interludes, a sad, atmospheric waltz and finally a break from the moody intensity with a warm nocturne that wouldn’t be out of place in Brahms.

The rest of this is isn’t as dark, often serving as a vehicle for Pagan’s abundant humor. Prelude XIX is a darkly comedic theme with almost a reggae beat and Middle Eastern tinges. The most overtly baroque works here which open the album are somewhat over-the-top in a Victor Borge/Raymond Scott kind of way and are often uproariously funny. As is the concluding piece, a genial, bouncily swinging tarantella melody that takes on the feel of a bumbling gangster movie theme. The ensemble clearly have as much fun playing this as Pagan must have when he wrote it – now it’s your turn.

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September 14, 2010 Posted by | avant garde music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment