Down this Dark Road, Nathan Bisco

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Down this Dark Road, Nathan Bisco
Year of Composition: 1998     Composed for the ASQ

Review

Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY)
Thursday, April 23, 1998
Saxophone Quartet, going to school
Herman Trotter

Iroquois High School was host, on Wednesday evening, to the first of four concerts concluding the Amherst Saxophone Quartet's 1997 -98 season, and also to the premiere performance of a work by a member of the Iroquois senior class, Nathan Bisco.

The concert will be repeated at 8 p.m. Friday in Slee Hall on the DB North Campus, at 7 p.m. May 4 in Olmsted School 56, and at 8 p.m. May 13 in the Bijou Grille.

The theme of the concerts is Fast Forward, as the quartet looks to the future with five new works, after having opened with three pieces written for them over the past two decades.

Particularly in this location, Bisco's "Down This Dark Road" became the center of attention, and deserved it. The 10-minute work is confidently developed, with a remarkably mature sense of voice movement and varying textures, plus extremely effective but not overworked use of brief silences as a structural element.

As the title suggests, the music could be considered a narrative, with a pensive, questioning opening answered with dissonances that pique the curiosity. The soprano points the way into a wandering section with mysterious side noises, followed by a fast section suggesting running away from some threat and accelerating to a brisk staccato gait.

Again the soprano points to a calmer journey with unusual low register alto sonorities, and a baritone solo guiding the way to an intensifying development and an expansively ruminating conclusion. It's an impressive Opus 1 for Bisco, given a very fine performance.

The concert had opened with Robert Mols' 1981 "Enchainment," with its warm harmonies, smooth-as-silk textures, and mixture of classical and jazz ambience, followed by David Stock's 1990 "Sax Appeal," whose four movements intriguingly evoked everything from 1940s big band flavors to a variety of noodly, pulsing, herky-jerky rhythms in incessant motion.

Nils Vigeland's 1991 "Nine Waltzes and an Ecossaise," reportedly a tribute to Schubert, saluted the composer with bizarre but not irreverent extrapolations of conventional waltz rhythms and lilts.

The immaculate ensemble stood out in the concluding new jazz arrangements, particularly Steve Parisi's attractive and tightly rhythmic "Academy Street," a soulful arrangement of Ellington's "Prelude to a Kiss," and Russ Carere's "All Right Blues," with 1940s big band riffs, wonderful walking bass lines, ping-ponging of phrases among the instruments, and a wild glissando ending.

Down this Dark Road, Nathan Bisco
Enchainment (1981), Robert Mols
Nine Waltzes and an Ecossaise (1991), Nils Vigeland
All Right Blues (1996), Russ Carere
Saxophone Quartet, going to school