Nina's Samba, Stephen Parisi

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Nina's Samba, Stephen Parisi
Year of Composition:     Composed for the ASQ


Buffalo News, The (Buffalo, NY)
Saturday, February 9, 2002
Saxophone quartet wails despite losing UB gig
Jan Jezioro

Leaving the Amherst Saxophone Quartet's concert at Westminster Presbyterian Church on Friday evening, a patron was overheard to remark, "All that talent, and you can really tell that they love what they're doing."

That comment, though perhaps made casually, pretty much sums up what almost everyone who has attended any of the quartet's concerts over the years has felt.

This concert, the third in the quartet's series at Westminster, was titled "The Mid-Winter Blues," an idea to which Buffalonians can readily relate. The idea of the blues took on a particular poignancy, however, when the frontman, tenor Stephen Rosenthal, told the audience that the group had just learned that its residency at the University at Buffalo, now in its eighth year, is being terminated.

Rosenthal dropped this bad news on the audience just before the last scheduled piece on the program, "All Right Blues," composed by alto Russ Carere. The group then proceeded to play the pants off this jazz tour de force.

Carere treats his partners right in this piece, letting the tenor, and baritone Harry Fackelman, lead off with an up-tempo duet before his hard-blowing solo. Rosenthal returned for an extended riff over the baritone, with soprano Susan Fancher getting in her own licks before the tenor's final honk.

A well-deserved standing ovation earned the audience a couple of encores: a novelty number, played impossibly fast, and the ragtime "Southern Beauties," played with the kind of good humor that you don't usually expect from people who have just found out that they've lost their jobs.

The program had opened unexpectedly, with a short, celebratory overture by Vivaldi, followed by the "Saxophone Quartet," composed for the group in 1985 by the late UB professor Carlo Pinto. This tightly constructed quartet was convincingly played, from the solemn opening lento, succeeded by the anticipatory nervousness of the presto, through the sleepwalking andante, with its held notes over a baritone drone. The final movement had all the players soloing before the creamy-sounding unison finish.

Buffalo composer Stephen Parisi's "Nina's Samba" was a jumping, up-tempo delight. Extended solo riffs for each of the instruments highlighted this infectious number, which wanted to make you get up and dance.

Composer Frank Ticheli describes his recent composition "Out of the Blue" as a work of "urgent, jazzy, hyperactive energy," and as played by the quartet, it proved to be all of that. The opening detached figures develop into a motor-driven perpetual motion, becoming spikier before reaching a pause. Slow down-phrasing by the tenor and baritone briefly interrupt the propulsive pace, which soon increases intensity, rushing headlong to the ending, giving the listener one heck of a ride.

Miles Davis' standard "Nardis" featured the sinewy playing of Fancher, while Dave Brubeck's "Blue Rondo a la Turk" was played with breathless energy, interrupted by the required swinging interludes, nicely running out of steam at the finish.

Thelonius Monk's signature number, "Blue Monk," was definitely more happy than blue, in an up-tempo treatment that featured some tight duets and hot riffs.

All Right Blues (1996), Russ Carere
Nina's Samba, Stephen Parisi
Out of the Blue, Frank Ticheli
Nardis, Miles Davis
Blue Rondo a la Turk, Dave Brubeck
Blue Monk, Thelonius Monk
Saxophone Quartet (1985), Carlo Pinto
Saxophone quartet wails despite losing UB gig
Buffalo News, The (Buffalo, NY)
Saturday, October 13, 2001
Saxophone quartet tunes in world of sound
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.

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
Saxophone quartet tunes in world of sound

Composer Biography

1955 —

STEPHEN PARISI (b. 1955) was born in Buffalo to music loving parents who started him on piano at the age of seven. By the time he was 10 he had already written over 50 compositions. His passion for music and ambition to become a composer led him to the University at Buffalo on a full Fine Arts Scholarship. He studied piano with Yvar Mikhashoff and composition with Leo Smit and obtained a Masters of Fine Arts in Music degree. He has written numerous works for the Amherst Saxophone Quartet. Two movements of his Saxophone Quartet No.1 were performed by the ASQ at Carnegie Hall in 1982. His music is characterized by facility, heartfelt melodies, syncopated rhythms, counterpoint, and lush jazz harmonies.