Apr 6 2015
Heritage/Evolution Volume One is the Prism Quartet pushing all-in on saxophone. By way of celebrating thirty years together as a working unit, they chose to highlight the saxophone rather than themselves… honoring the instrument that has served as the mechanism for their creativity over that span of time. The route taken to achieve this goal was by commissioning new pieces to preeminent jazz saxophonists on the scene who are known to embrace both the saxophone’s past and take it to entirely new territories. These pieces were to be performed live and accompanied by the Quartet… who are accomplished saxophonists in their own right.
The six guest saxophonists who were chosen (Steve Lehman, Dave Liebman, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Greg Osby, Tim Ries and Miguel Zenon) each bring their own sound to Heritage/Evolution. It’s fascinating how the context of a saxophone quartet plus one shapes the performance in ways unexpected and often quite sublime.
The influence of Indian music on “I Will Not Apologize For My Tone Tonight” has Mahanthappa’s signature indelibly planted right on the composition’s first notes. It opens with a reverential tone… a characteristic that rises up throughout this recording, regardless of who is sitting in as the guest saxophonist. Soon after, the song grows into a bubbling cauldron of activity, a sense of serious fun. This, too, is common throughout the recording. Over the composition’s 16-minute span, it also enters into a low drone, a whimsical game of melodic leapfrog, a solo behaving like a bird in flight, and then eventually back to its opening state of mind, where it closes out a thrilling series of scene changes.
Zenón’s “The Missing Piece” has a hymnal quality that radiates the beautiful and the sublime. He shifts between a darting motion and a glide atop the bed of warm harmonies. Solemn and gentle. On the other hand, his “X Marks the Square” has a celebratory tone as it sends joyful notes up to the rafters. The song becomes increasingly dense with intertwining lines and boisterous charm.
Ries’s “Name Day” is a dance. It is intensity expressed through subtle gestures, power expressed through highly-charged surges, and as it winds down, it does so with an unassuming grace.
Lehman typically utilizes an unconventional method of beguilement, and that trend continues with his 5-part suite “15 Places at the Same Time.” The first part, “Line/Texture,” is an echo bouncing off four walls of a room while chasing its own tail. Its alternating pattern of change and repetition is massively hypnotic. Part II “Gesture/Rhythm” doesn’t stray far from its predecessor, but it does take its act out of the bare room and to a succession of staircases, where ascensions and declinations punctuate cross currents of motion and melody.
The third part, “Solo” shows how even a murmur possesses the strength to mesmerize, and this leads right into “Radical Alignment,” a song with a churning motion, a cyclical force that folds into itself and decimates the line between start and end. And the concluding section, “Afterlife” is amusingly disjointed, the sense of many leaders, no followers and each with their own manifesto. Its foundation is a gamesmanship of crossing over the lines of one another, and possesses the ultimate irony of the group falling into lock-step after it all shakes out.
With “Covenant of Voices,” Osby returns the affair to a hymnal state, at peace with its surroundings, soft like a sunrise while the world is yet asleep. This continues with Liebman’s “Trajectory,” as well as his arrangement of Coltrane’s “Dear Lord,” where even the spiritual fervency is expressed with a demeanor molded in reverential tones.
Heritage/Evolution Volume One is an album comprised of countless stunning moments, often quite breathtaking.
Your album personnel: Timothy McAllister (soprano sax), Taimur Sullivan (baritone sax), Zachary Shemon (alto sax), Matthew Levy (tenor sax) and guests: Rudresh Mahanthappa (alto sax), Miguel Zenón (alto sax), Tim Ries (tenor sax, percussion), Steve Lehman (alto sax), Dave Liebman (soprano sax) and Greg Osby (alto saxophone).
Released on Innova Recordings.
Listen to more of the album on Innova’s Soundcloud page.
Jazz from the Philadelphia, NYC and Ann Arbor, Michigan scenes.