Everywhere a sax

Works reviewed: 
Partia VI, Johann Pachelbel
Mosaics (1987), Robert Mols
Escape to the Center (1989), Dana Wilson
My Cat Almost Died in Memphis (1986), Martin van de Ven
Adjustment, Horace Silver
Buffalo News
Buffalo, NY
Apr 25 1995
Herman Trotter

EVEN FOR an ensemble known for its variety in programming, the program by the Amherst Saxophone Quartet is out of the ordinary, ranging from a baroque transcription to ragtime, with jazz and contemporary works of three different persuasions holding the middle ground. The first of three performances of the program was Monday evening at UB's Slee Hall. It will be repeated Sunday at Buffalo Seminary and Thursday in the Calumet Arts Cafe.

And the tentative judgment is that it's the more conservative end of that outlay which will last longest in my memory.

The six very brief baroque dance movements that make up Pachelbel's Partia No. 6, heard in an arrangement by Stephen Rosenthal, were a delight. From the opening Adagio, full of delicious passing dissonances that the saxophones' soft sonority made particularly pungent, to the concluding Gigue, snappy and almost martial in character, the music was played with a good sense of dynamic contrast, freedom of line and exemplary balance.

Of much more complex texture, Buffalo composer Robert Mols' 1987 "Mosaics" opened with a mellow-sounding cadence that sounded as if it wanted to break into "Mood Indigo." But it went in other directions instead, settling on a long sequence of alternating slow and fast sections.

There was no chance for mo
notony, because even when the slow-fast pattern was only moderately flexible, the character of the sections changed continually. One was almost intellectually dreamy, another was made of fast snippets in clipped rhythms, and all, it seemed, gradually became richer in harmony and tighter in density.

Dana Wilson's "Escape to the Center" seemed of pointillist persuasion at first, then veered toward jabbing tone bursts with brief lyrical overlays. After some dialogue between the high and low reeds, a cacophonous jazzy spirit took over, peaking and closing with a concentrated, gruff jazz cadence.

If a rock group can call itself Hypnotic Clambake, who am I to question Dutch composer Martin van de Ven when he names a piece "My Cat Almost Died in Memphis (A True Story)," then has no explanation for the title. The music is for sax quartet and pre-recorded tape, which added rapid metallic ascents with long reverb times to short bursts of reed sounds, then retreated to a swinging quasi-big-band sound with the tape furnishing percussive rhythm section support.

There was nothing equivocal about Harry Fackelman's arrangement of Horace Silver's "Adjustment." It was flat-out jazz, with some intriguing deepening and lightening of ensemble timbre as the quartet changed instrumentation in midstream. An alto, tenor and two baritones took it to its most sonorous depth.

The program closed with two rags, Henry Lodge's "Temptation Rag" and Herbert Ingraham's "Poison Ivy," described by Rosenthal as the favorite rag of the American Association of Dermatologists.

Everywhere a sax