Label: Sunnyside Records, 2019
Personnel - Samuel Blais: baritone sax; Dave Liebman: soprano sax, flute; Donny McCaslin: tenor sax; David Binney: alto sax.
The music hailed from classic saxophone quartets (typically comprising soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone) can be very exciting when in the hands of wise, influential musicians. Good examples are World Saxophone Quartet and Rova Saxophone Quartet, both founded in 1977 and with the latter still active. Now, a new ensemble of the same kind arrives, with its top-notch members showing off their multifaceted genius while fully enjoying a bracing musical camaraderie.
The Four Visions Saxophone Quartet was born from an idea of baritonist Samuel Blais, who first invited his former teacher, master soprano saxist Dave Liebman, to join him. The remaining two positions available couldn’t be better filled, with Donny McCaslin and David Binney bringing their tone quality and persuasive language on tenor and alto, respectively. The quartet’s debut album features ten compositions specifically written for the occasion. Blais and Binney contributed three compositions each, while McCaslin and Liebman penned two.
“Blaizza” inaugurates the session with flowing melodies in strong counterpoint and shifting tempos, combining four distinct timbres for a stunning effect. For this two-part tune straddling between modern classical and contemporary jazz, Blais sought inspiration on “Andante and Scherzo” by French composer Eugène Bozza. Conversely, his “Et Vois Et Jours” was originally written for a jazz quartet and readapted to fit the context of this disc. Manifestly, there’s absolutely no need for chordal support here since the combinations of notes clearly imply harmonic movement.
Relying on unisons, polyphonies, and question-and-answer mechanics, the passages in Binney’s “Dunes” are accessible to the ear but relatively complex in the execution. Whether intoned with stately grace or rhythmic impact, the piece is highly enjoyable, reaching a climax with the altoist’s impromptu projections on top of a groove formed by a sturdy baritone pedal and tenor-soprano ostinatos in seven. Also penned by Binney, the staccato-infused “Empty Sunbeans” could be turned into a great pop/rock song, while “Technicolor Penguins” vouches a head sequenced by off-centered melodic ideas and rhythmically accurate unisons. You’ll find poignant, tone-bent cries by McCaslin and Binney evolving into long runs toward a crescendo that culminates in piercing notes.
So luxuriant and precise in its conception, “Legions” was envisioned by McCaslin with a new found determination, and it’s all about superior interplay. It features the composer and Liebman in crisp and exuberant exchanges and Binney in a high flight. The former two deliver again on “Buy a Mountain”, another McCaslin-penned stunner.
Liebman brought the longest piece into the collection, with the cogitative “In Bach’s Studio” clocking in at nearly 16 minutes. However, it’s with “A Moody Time” that he enchants the most. Besides inside/outside offerings, he delineates epic unisons, combines a mix of thematic Eastern and Western flavors, and devises a bouncing 15/8 groove that gains emphasis with the potency of the baritone.
Promoting textural variety in their advanced writings, these accomplished saxophonists, more than fulfilling their improvisational duties, dabble in the tonal qualities of their reed instruments with an extensive range of approaches. The result is a wonderful album.
03 - Legions ► 06 - A Moody Day ► 07 - Technicolor Penguins