Dave Liebman / David Binney / Donny McCaslin / Samuel Blais - Four Visions Saxophone Quartet

Label: Sunnyside Records, 2019

Personnel - Samuel Blais: baritone sax; Dave Liebman: soprano sax, flute; Donny McCaslin: tenor sax; David Binney: alto sax.

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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.

Grade  A

Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
03 - Legions ► 06 - A Moody Day ► 07 - Technicolor Penguins


David Binney - The Time Verses

David Binney: alto saxophone; Jacob Sacks: piano; Eivind Opsvick: bass; Dan Weiss: drums - Guests: Jen Shyu: vocals; Shai Golan: alto saxophone.

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Long-revered altoist phenomenon David Binney is certainly proud of having created a very personal style within the modern jazz. In the course of his remarkable career, he has joined forces with other ingenious artists such as Chris Potter, Bill Frisell, Donny McCaslin, Craig Taborn, Scott Colley, Edward Simon, Brian Blade and Kenny Wollesen. Those collaborations spawned truly exhilarating albums - Free to Dream (Mythology, 98), Welcome to Life (Mythology, 04), Out of Airplanes (Mythology, 06), and Graylen Epicenter (Mythology, 11) should be on the shelves of any jazz lover. The brand new The Time Verses is now out to join them.

His compositional structure and patterns are immediately identifiable in “Walk”, which flows with a rock pulse for a while until decelerating toward an oneiric passage efficiently controlled by the rhythm section. The final part thrives with cyclic harmonic sequences, so appropriate for Binney’s resolute attacks and imaginative phrases replete with intervallic wisdom. Vocal samples and electronics are tastefully added.

Airing a folk-ish melody, “Arc” is a ballad that grows athletic muscle throughout Binney’s improvisation, returning to the soft primary movements in order to conclude. However, the Zen trophy goes to “Seen”, a soaring balm for the spirit and mind, earnestly sung by Jen Shyu, who also wrote the lyrics. After Opsvik’s empathic solo, Binney sets off on a soulful, quasi-metaphorical improvisation that defies time and space. His wise sense of resolution, especially after ‘outside’ flights, is a rare gift.

A jittery intro of sax and drums in “The Reason to Return” seems to push us into heavier territories. Despite more saturated in color, the tune remains faithful to the bandleader’s philosophy as he embarks on edgy declarations congested with melodic awareness, well followed by Weiss’s graceful rhythmic drives and Sacks' exciting piano swirls.

Where Worlds Collide” is a typical-Binney creation, well structured from roots to branches and rejoicing with plenty of life. Weiss enchants with his percussive clear-sightedness, and after the tremendous saxophone bursts, Sacks shows why he’s one of the most rhythmically daring pianists on the scene. This particular tune features guest saxophonist Shai Golan on the theme statement.

A bracing swing takes hold of “Fifty Five” whose title makes reference to the 55 Bar in NY where this quartet often plays. The tune intersects Binney’s fluid language with moods of Wayne Shorter and Sam Rivers.

The Time Verses gives us everything we could expect from a visionary saxophonist of multiple talents and resources as David Binney. This is his most brilliant work in years.

         Grade  A

         Grade A

Label: Criss Cross, 2017
Favorite Tracks: 
06 – Seen ► 08 – The Reason to Return ► 11 – Where Worlds Collide