New Century Saxophone Quartet: Somewhere
New Century Saxophone Quartet
Main Street USA (Channel Crossings CCS 9896)
Steve Kirkman (percussion).
Composed by Leonard Bernstein.
Recorded: Renswoude, The Netherlands, November 1995
Rating: 97/100 (learn more)
Balanced on the cusp between classical and jazz, the New Century Saxophone Quartet seems able to syncopate or go "pure" at will, the four gents and some extra percussion often sounding like a whole orchestra – as in the group's 1995 album of (other-than-Copland) Americana, which extrapolates and builds on tunes from Porgy and Bess and Morton Gould, as well as much of West Side Story. Nearly all of altoist James Boatman's arrangements scintillate and surprise (from cha-chas to oompahs, and vaudeville to the blues), but for sheer beauty none shines more brightly than "Somewhere."
Any jazz here is in the ear of the behearer only, as the tune is played as a hushed and heart-soothing ballad throughout, the only syncopation coming in some extended, out-of-tempo pauses near the end. The New Century's "Somewhere" begins as a yearning song from the blended saxes and near-silent vibraphone, then gradually becomes a contrapuntal dialogue mostly between alto and baritone (the latter going both above and to the bottom of its normal range), finally rising to the grand climax of the album and maybe Bernstein's score as well, as the hopeful upper voices sing like flutes while the low sax and timpani sound Tony's death knell.
Replete with complexity and invention, not to mention gorgeous playing throughout, there's definitely a time and place for these guys, somewhere.
Reviewer: Ed Leimbacher