Quartet takes a look at new compositions

Works reviewed: 
Quartet No. 3 (1976), Russell Howland
Tetraloque (1990), Richard Willis
Saxophone Quartet #2 (1992), Bernard Hoffer
Saxophone Quartet (1980), Steve Cohen
Four, for Tango (1987), Astor Piazzolla
Buffalo News
Buffalo, NY
Jan 30 1996
Thomas Putnam

The Amherst Saxophone Quartet has a drawer that holds music it may someday perform in concert; now that drawer's a little less full.

The ensemble played four new saxophone quartets, composed between 1976 and 1992 its "Pushing the Edges" program Monday night in the University, at Buffalo's Slee Concert Hall on the North Campus.

Russell Howland'S Quartet: No. 3 (1976) has a French taste; its intelIigence is not severe. The first movement counterpoint, is as easy to swaIlow as cotton candy — it is cotton candypoint. Howland's saxophones are French, too, in what they evoke. Not a blackboard with diagrams and compositional formulas, but impressionistic views — a pond, say, with a frog on a lily pad, dreaming of a fat fly. The neatly composed piece was smartly played.

"Tetralogue" is what Richard Willis calls his 1990 quartet. Its movements are a "Fantasia," with serpentine lines; a scherzo a la Lenny that's cool (real cool); an uninspired "Arioso" (the lack of sexy writing for saxes was surprising on this program — sexy as in warm-lyrical-sweet); and a whirling "Corrente" with a wonderful two-chord cadence. Busy saxophones aren't always best.

Bernard Hoffer's Quartet No. 2 (1992) is notable for its sonic experimentation. This includes harmonies that seem to glow and pulsate, and gargled and multiphonic tonal techniques. The instrumental writing is nicely layered, and melodic lines may be pieced together from one saxophone to the next. It is a piece you may admire without loving, and the performance was often admirable (as when the quartet stood at the edge of a fermata summit, then catapulted to a precipitous descent).

Steve Cohen's Quartet (1980) wears jazz's costume jewelry — it knows syncopation and it feels the punch of saxophones, and it wants sweet lyricism.

There was one transcription — "Four for Tango" by Astor Piazzolla (arranged by Claude Voirpy). Here we are in a cabaret — the court of the saxophone. What makes the piece appealing is not the dance beat, but its trick of sound whereby the saxophones, suggest the swift cutting passion of bowed violins. You see, a transcription can be original.

Quartet takes a look at new compositions