Amherst Quartet avoids all the potholes

Works reviewed: 
Concerto No. 1 BWV 592, Johann Sebastian Bach
Quatuor, op. 122 (1942), Joseph Jongen
Quartet No. 1 (1992), Stephen Parisi
Phantom Melos (1981), Rocco Di Pietro
All Blues, Miles Davis
Buffalo News
Buffalo, NY
Oct 31 1994
Herman Trotter

Fresh from a tour touching down in Erie, Pa., and Beaufort, S.C., during which they played to capacity audiences, the Amherst Saxophone Quartet returned to its home base on Sunday evening to do its bit for the opening festivities at the new UB Center for the Arts and was greeted by a sparse crowd estimated at less than a quarter of a house.

They offered, for the only time in this area, the same program with which they will tour all season. It was comprised of transcriptions, original works for saxes and the ensemble's signature closing mix of jazz and ragtime.

The only work common to this program and the first of the ensemble's series programs offered earlier in October was the opening transcription of a composition by Bach, which the program erroneously identified simply as "K.592." Most listeners, of course, recognized this as a misplaced Mozart Koechel Number.

In his jovial verbal correction of this error, however, spokesman Steve Rosenthal never did fully identify the Bach work in question. It's the Bach-Vivaldi Concerto No. 1 for Solo Organ, BWV 592. Other than noting that the brief, three-movement concerto was played with a good pulse, pliant phrasing and very deft dovetailing of the Finale's lightning fast exchanges, I'd refer the reader to contributing critic Kenneth Young's review in the Oct. 11 for a unique viewpoint on this work.

The three original works for saxes at the center of the program were the meat and potatoes of this concert, but carefully varied in their flavors.

The form of Belgian composer Joseph Jongen's Saxophone Quartet was hard to discern — either a multi-movement work played without pauses or perhaps just a free fantasy. At any rate, it opened with the baritone sax in a rhythmic figure of a rather jaunty demeanor which set a sort of dominant tone. The music then proceeded through several contrasting sections, some with wonderfully fanciful and ornate lyric lines, in which serious and insouciant attitudes seemed to jockey for dominance. But over the longer pull that opening jovial, jaunty ambience kept returning like the rondo theme in a classical symphony or sonata. The extraordinary ensemble performance in the work's tricky rhythms held the larger' form together and emphasized both its serious overall intent and its more playful subsections.

Grand Island composer Stephen Parisi's Saxophone Quartet (11 years in the making, 1980-91) is of a lighter but no less intriguing intent. Its three movements evoked reminiscences ranging from updated old English dances with lots of assertive noodling overlays, to a restful and flowing center with a slight blues tinge, and an almost pointillist final movement, jabbing and assertive with rhythmic pitfalls everywhere. The ASQ avoided all those potholes, playing with technical brilliance while preserving the genial nature of the score.

Former Buffalonian Rocco DiPietro's "Phantom Melos" was quite different, very open in texture, groping and mysterious in its questing lyrical lines, and occasionally dropping an extended phrase with operatic aria resonances. Its apparent climax was reached in a complicated, chattery, cacophonous, staccato section, only to relax into ghostly harmonies and receding tension and the musicians, one by one, stopped playing and turned off their stand lights to end in total darkness.

Jazz and rags concluded the program, with works of Eubie Blake, Euday Bowman, ASQ member Russ Carere and Miles Davis. The latter's "All Blues" in an arrangement by Harry Fackelman was a standout, with its fanciful solos by soprano Sal Andolina and alto Carere over a rocking blues ostinato figure.

Amherst Quartet avoids all the potholes