Saxophone quartet tunes in world of sound

Works reviewed: 
Stepping Out (1989), David Kechley
Cafeteria Suite, Leopold Godowsky III
Four, for Tango (1987), Astor Piazzolla
Nostalgias, J.C. Cobian
Garufa, J.A. Collazo
Wapango, Paquito D'Rivera
Nina's Samba, Stephen Parisi
Buffalo News, The
Buffalo, NY
Oct 13 2001
Garaud MacTaggart

The Amherst Saxophone Quartet is a wonderful ensemble and a Western New York treasure. The group seems to be at home with more-adventurous material, but it plays arrangements of George Gershwin and Eubie Blake tunes with equal aplomb. That is probably why its concert series has become a mini-event over the last 24 years and why its concert Friday evening was attended by a number of repeat "customers."

Music from the New World could have been the theme, but calling the program a "celebration of music from North and South America: got the point across, too.

Works by American composers David Kechley, Leopold Godowsky III, Stephen Parisi and William Grant Still were matched by Cuban-American jazz master Paquito D'Rivera, arrangements of some Argentine tangos by Alejandro Rutty and "Four for Tango," a work by Astor Piazzolla originally commissioned by the Kronos Quartet.

Kechley, who was in the audience, wrote "Stepping Out" in 1989 for the Saskatoon Saxophone Quartet, but since then, it has entered the repertoire of a fairly substantial number of like-minded groups. In fact, Susan Fancher, the soprano sax player for the Amherst quartet, had played it when she was a member of the Vienna Saxophone Quartet. The work, a four-movement piece, seems to pay homage to minimalists one minute and the old tradition of singing "rounds" the next. The whole process was surprisingly fascinating.

Godowsky also was in the house, and his "Cafeteria Suite" was derived from the incidental music he wrote for a film based on the Isaac Bashevis Singer short story "The Cafeteria." The solid, well-constructed six-movement suite has its own charms, but not necessarily one that would send you home whistling the main theme.

Claude Voirpy's arrangement of Piazzolla's "Four for Tango" was the most vibrant, passionate sounding work in the first half of the concert and provided a hint of things to come later in the evening. Stephen Rosenthal, the quartet's tenor player, arranged Still's "Danzas de Panama," a work that seemed to contain snippets of popular melodies, the kind of thing that teases the brain with its familiarity without revealing its name.

Rutty, a former doctoral student in the University at Buffalo composition program, hails from Argentina and arranged some tangos for the quartet and singer Lorena Guillen, another Argentine. Both "Nostalagias" and "Garufa" - a term roughly translated as "Party Boy" - were sung with the kind of conviction for which Guillen has become known in this material. The quartet was right on the money too, and so were the arrangements. The microphone amplification, however, was horribly off, which made mush out of Guillen's syllables.

In many ways, the most fun pieces were the ones saved for the back end of the program. D'Rivera's "Wapango" has shown up in arrangements for string quartet and woodwind quintet in addition to the saxophone quartet version played by the Amherst group. But, as the music publisher for the work says, it remains "an exciting and lively Latin dance with a syncopated bass line - perfect for recitals, jobs or educational demos!"

The final composition of the evening - not counting the reprise of "Garufa" that was the encore - was Parisi's clever "Nina's Samba," a work that seemed to weave touches of rhythm and blues with post-bop mannerisms throughout its structure but in a way that avoided triteness even as it gave sonic hints about an ensuing party.

Saxophone quartet tunes in world of sound