New Century Saxophone Quartet: Somewhere

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.

February 16, 2009 · 3 comments

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World Saxophone Quartet: I Let A Song Go Out of My Heart

The W.S.Q. signed with the prestigious Elektra/Nonesuch label in 1986, and shifted their repertoire somewhat, too, conceiving of albums more thematically, as the major label debut Plays Duke Ellington suggests. Lake’s arrangement of “I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart” is a stormy abstraction, a skirl of croaked and screeching riffs with a conflicted relation to the source material. When the familiar melody finally emerges, it as though from a period of gestation. Despite the edgy playing, the production is markedly roomy and lush—this contributes to the uncanny, overcast quality but is a notable departure from the bright, punchy Black Saint recordings, which better capture the group’s interaction

October 22, 2007 · 0 comments

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World Saxophone Quartet: P.O. in Cairo

It’s unclear what the titular “P.O.” is here, maybe just a workaday “post office,” but perhaps a “private organization,” describing the W.S.Q. itself. Certainly the winding melodic line, with its insinuation of intrigue and clandestine activity, supports the latter reading. The mystery unfolds throughout the performance, where skittering lines suddenly lock into tight counterpoint, as if the result of covert cues. Murray’s composition is a showcase for the collective, and the recording a summation of its artful methods. The performance appeared on the group’s Black Saint debut, and its second album overall.

October 22, 2007 · 0 comments

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