Falconer Street, Russ Carere

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Falconer Street, Russ Carere
Year of Composition: 1998     Composed for the ASQ


Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY)
Saturday, December 5, 1998
Sax quartet program offers rags, riches
Herman Trotter

The Amherst Saxophone Quartet introduced its new soprano player, Susan Fancher, to the Buffalo audience in Holmes Chapel of Westminster Presbyterian Church.

They opened with the unscheduled "Two Bourrees" by Purcell, a sort of encore up front, whose festive ambience and bouncy rhythms demonstrated the big, blooming, resonant sound inherent in the chapel's very bright acoustics.

The acoustics did not, however, serve a transcription of Mozart's String Quartet in F, K590, quite so well. The outer movements were played with immaculate ensemble and balance, and with an invigorating vitality, but in the upper register the sound became quite shrill. This was even true in parts of the Andante, which otherwise seemed the most hospitable of the four movements to the saxophones' sonority.

A major part of the problem was that the quartet quite often seemed to be playing about two dynamic levels too high, with resultant loss of chamber music intimacy. The sounds of the instruments impinged and collided rather than blending.

Works written for saxes got the program back on track.

Michael Torke's 1995 minimalist "July" slid imperceptibly, almost formlessly from repetition of one expressive idea to another, rather like an extended dream sequence, part agitated and part serene.

The plan of Lukas Foss' 1985 Saxophone Quartet takes the listener through crazed bursts of sound, a long island of repose in changing chords, a skeletal segment starting in toneless key-slaps, then an ensemble of random staccato attacks, and an unexpected, highly gratifying quiet C Major chord to close. The performance, amodel of precision and incisive playing, made a strong case for the music.

Highly audience-friendly was Jongen's one-movement 1942 Quartet, Op. 122, first liquid and suave, then going through stages of melancholy with a Gallic blues twist, jocularity, and a free-flight finale combining the previous moods in casual references. It was superbly played and was wrapped up with a fine, sonorous coda.

In quartet member Russ Carere's "All Right Blues" the ensemble wailed a bit, added sonic 1940s big-band riffs, then gave everyone an improvised solo, most over an engaging walking baritone line.

The real encore, also by Carere, was "Falconer Street," a nice addition to the quartet's collection of signature ragtime pieces.

Quartet in F Major, K. 590, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
July (1995), Michael Torke
Saxophone Quartet, Lukas Foss
Quatuor, op. 122 (1942), Joseph Jongen
All Right Blues (1996), Russ Carere
Falconer Street, Russ Carere
Sax quartet program offers rags, riches
Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY)
Monday, October 5, 1992
Sax quartet opens new season in new home
Herman Trotter

Smaller hall at Nichols School embelishes the group's expertise
The Amherst Saxophone Quartet opened its 15th year Sunday evening in a new home base, the wood-paneled Boocock Library on the Nichols School's Amherst Street campus.

This site is smaller than such previous series locations as Rockwell Hall, the Historical Society Auditorium and Canisius College's Christ the King Chapel. As a result the ensemble's sound seemed closer, more intimate, and perhaps even a bit louder than we were accustomed to, but the library'S vaulted ceiling and wood paneling also lent a welcome richness and warmth to the sonority so that the new location seems entirely hospitable.

For this concert The quartet also was seated in a straight line facing the audience instead of the usual rectangular pattern facing each other. There were a few times, mostly in the opening Bach "Fugue a la Gigue," when the greater difficulty in making eye contact seemed to effect the ASQ's usual seamless ensemble.

But their customary spirited playing was very much in evidence during the trademark concluding group of highly amiable jazz and ragtime pieces, which included premieres of four works by the ensemble's alto saxophonist Russ Carere, not necessarily intended to be played together but offered in succession this time.

The jazz derived works were "Rainbows" and "Take Off," the former built on gently fluttering layered lines with solos arching over-top and pulsing accompaniment, while the latter was a mellow and mildly pungent rumination ultimately dominated by an entreating, wailing melodic figure.

Carere's ragtime pieces were the easy swinging "River Walk," based on a jaunty three-note falling and rising figure, and the more rapid and angular "Falconer Street."

Soprano saxophonist Sal Andolina's arrangement of Zez Confrey's "Audacity" was flat-out ragtime, rollicking and rolling along to conclude the program in the prototypical ASQ manner.

For me the meatiest part of the program was Leo Smit's "Tzadik." The Buffalo-based composer says the title refers to revered Hasidic secular leaders able to conjure mystic spells. The music had this quality in abundance, opening in an incantation of deep chordal dissonance, going on to a series of primal shouts, a joyous street dance like a hora, some plodding but hypnotically fascinating processional passages and even a static but subtle progression reminiscent of a Schoenbergian "klangfarbenmelodie" (tone color melody).

It's a very episodic piece of some 15 minutes duration, but the ASQ's understanding, commitment and musicianship made it all hang together very effectively.

Representing the standard sax quartet literature was Pierre Lantier's 1942 "Andante and Scherzetto," offering sonorities which seemed particularly smooth and suave after the Yiddish chatter and wails of "Tzadik." The Andante, although music absolutely without a program, is the kind of rhapsody which can evoke bright, shining Spring days. The ASQ played it with gentle, undulating line and superb ensemble balance, while the Scherzetto, with its jaunty melody recalling "We're off to see the Wizard," made a brief and delightfully capricious finale.

Music of another Buffalo-based composer, Rocco Di Pietro, opened the second half. His "Souvenirs from Bellini's 'Norma'" was unashamed bel canto fine-lined melody over typically thin harmonization and repetitive oom-pah-pah supporting figurations. It was altogether engaging, and played with an obvious understanding of bel canto essences.

Rainbows, Russ Carere
Take Off, Russ Carere
Falconer Street, Russ Carere
Tzadik (1983), Leo Smit
Andante et Scherzetto, Pierre Lantier
Souvenirs from Bellini's Norma (1984), Rocco Di Pietro
River Walk, Russ Carere
Sax quartet opens new season in new home