Amherst Sax Quartet puts on arresting performance

Works reviewed: 
Nuages - Scherzo, Eugene Bozza
Jazz Vignettes, Andrew White, III
Tucson Citizen
Tucson, AZ
Dec 9 1988

Amherst Sax Quartet puts on arresting performance Many a Centennial Hall patron headed into the cold night air last night, half expecting some kind of punishment. They had been warned by the Amherst Saxophone Quartet's tenor player, Stephen Rosenthal. "This is a classical concert," he told the crowd. "Anyone caught enjoying themselves will be asked to leave." The entire hall was not forcibly ejected, despite blatant waves of laughter that accompanied Rosenthal's deadpan "introductions" to the works on the program and the subtler smiling that came from the group's capricious playing Therefore, it was logical to believe that lines of paddy wagons might be waiting outside to round up the offenders as they exited. Cheated the law again. On the other hand, the audience had cooperated where cooperation was most needed. It did not dance in the aisles as the group tossed Bach's "Fugue in G-alla Gigue" back and forth amongst its ranks, making the music ebb and flow with lyrical grace. Nor did the crowd jump up and wag its fingers as Amherst took Bach's "Badinerie" from "Suite No. 2 in B minor" at a peppy clip with cartoonish zestiness and flourishes of humor. Admittedly, the crowd may have lost points for not quickly coming to the realization that the three Bach works were individual pieces, not movements, and it would be alright to clap in between. Or it may have been that the sweet sound of the music- sort of a collection of sugary outtakes from a Paul Whiteman movie-distracted them from keeping an eye on their watches with waves of pleasant nostalgia. By that time, the scoring had become too complex to figure, so the only thing to do was kick back and enjoy the quirky beauty of Ira Kraemers's "Petite Suite." The three-note rhythmic bursts and ambiguous harmonies of the opening "Prelude" movement gave Amherst a chance to show off its tight, clock-like precision playing. The upbeat midsection of the following "Nocturne" movement pitted pairs of saxophones against each other, one half providing melody to the other's bracing melody and harmony lines, while the Fellini-like "Vaudeville" movement brought the work to a carnivalesque close. The dizzying sins of Bozza's "Nuages-Scherzo," a sort of "Flight of the Bumblebee" for sax quartet, brought work of fleet perfection from the quartet. On the second half, the arrangement of Verdi's La Forza Del Destino" overture lacked the power it needed, though in the peppier, Rossini-like passages, Amherst excelled. The Gershwin medley, however was an undeniable hit. Few composers' music so aptly fits this assemblage of forces as well as Gershwin's and Amherst sunk its reeds into the syncopated rhythms, rootie-tootie ensemble harmonies and bluesy melodies, literally kicking up a heel apiece in the final tune, "I've Got Rhythm." Perhaps the best works on the program were Andrew White's "Jazz Vignettes" Nos. 8 and 1. No. 8 saw the quartet transform itself into a compressed version of the Count Basie horn section that left you half expecting the steady spank of CB sideman Freddie Green's guitar at any moment. No. 1 "Impressions," gave the sense that the asymmetrical moving undercurrent pianist McCoy Tyner brought to John Coltrane's work had been liquefied and poured into their instruments, only to bubble out beneath soprano saxman Salvatore Andolina's Trane-like flights.