A delightful potpourri

Works reviewed: 
Sax Appeal (1990), David Stock
Duke Meets Mort (1992), Robert Carl
Drastic Measures, Russell Peck
Ditties (1997), Kim D. Sherman
Buffalo News, The
Buffalo, NY
Mar 30 2001
By: 
Garaud MacTaggart

Ever Since Adolphe Sax invented his lung- and reed-powered assemblage of curved metal tubing and multitudinous buttons, there have been classical composers that were intrigued by its sonic possibilities. These days it is an instrument more closely associated with jazz, blues and honkin' R&B instead of Debussy, Glazunov and Hindemith. Now, on the cusp of a new century, things are meshing together, and a new generation of classical composers is still looking at and being intrigued by this unique instrument.

That was and is the whole thrust of just about any Amherst Saxophone Quartet concert during the past 20-some odd years and this was certainly the case Thursday night as they unveiled six mutant works that range from the overtly serious to the playful. There were moments where Duke Ellington shook hands with Norton Feldman and times when echoes of gospel shouts whipped between phantom preachers and congregations. It was all a delightful potpourri and a good way to end the group's season. The evening started out with Dana Wilson's "Come Sunday Mornin'," as the members of the quartet entered from different corners of Slee Hall at the University at Buffalo North Campus, bringing their sound together physically and audibly. Wilson was in the audience for this performance and dutifully received applause. Robert Carl also was present and his "Duke Meets Mort," an effort at combining the styles of Duke Ellington and Mort Feldman, was fairly successful, also garnering kudos from the people present.

"Drastic Measures" by Russell Peck closed out the first half of the program with a well-constructed score wherein the quartet engaged in piquant harmonies and the tossing of riffs back and forth, generation a strong pulse that showcased the group's rhythmic flair. The back end of the evening was a blend of whimsy and seriousness. The world premiere of Kim D. Sherman's "Ditties" unveiled a set of seven snippets with the two longest of them timing in around 30 seconds, give or take a few moments while the others were ephemera to the tune of 10-15 seconds. It generated the chuckles that the composer (via the medium of tenor saxophonist Stephen Rosenthal) hoped it would. "Sax Appeal" was composed by David Stock specifically for the Amherst Saxophone Quartet and proved to be the major event on the program. His four-movement score was filled with jazz quotes and featured, in the "Jump" portion, a near constant rise and fall of rhythm patterns with melody lines strung between the beats like fresh laundry on a breezy day. The "Blues" section of the piece showcased some mid-tempo, 21st century blues bobbing and weaving but the "Sarabande" went from a beautifully articulated opening to breathy punctuations before winding back to a lovely ending. All in all, another fun, interesting concert from the Amherst Saxophone Quartet. This program will be repeated at 7:30 tonight in Westminster Presbyterian Church. A broadcast of their program can be heard at 4 p.m. Sunday on WBFO-FM.

A delightful potpourri