RSS feed RSS Twitter Twitter Facebook Facebook 15 Questions 15 Questions

CD Feature/ Prism Quartet: "William Albright: Music for Saxophones"

img  Tobias

It might seem odd that one of the rare albums dedicated to the work of William Albright should be dealing exclusively with pieces for saxophones. On the other hand, there is a lot to be said for this choice: Throughout his career, Albright has monoperspectivally either been placed in the drawer of teacher or eccentric organ virtuoso. Both of which are valuable aspects of his personality, but have made it hard on following generations to get to the heart of his oeuvre.

Then again, almost any approach to fully explain William Albright is doomed to fail. In his scores, a clear tonal and a recognisable melodic language meet oblique sheets of timbre, Jazz heads for a rendez-vous with Contemporary Composition, restless dynamics are confronted with breathtaking paralysis and carefree moments of life are bleeding into naked fear of death. It is a style which can probably not be “understood” on purely rational terms or on the level of personal experience on the side of the listener. It requires not only a certain openness of mind, but also active empathy to connect with the music – which could explain why Albright has remained in the medial shadows despite offering a welcome alternative to overly analytical techniques.

This may finally be offset by “Music for Saxophones”. As the Prism Quartet shows, emotions are the primary key to the work of William Albright. His pieces are filled with sudden twists and turns, moments of sound poetry and jagged edges, sharp contrasts and gentle flow and they rarely sit still for more than a minute in a row. But at their core, they are almost always accessible and relate to the most basic human sensations. This, in combination with the stark contrast between refined harmonies and popular outbursts (such as the BigBand intermezzo in “Heater”), lends them a touching bipolarity: It sometimes sounds like a composer in need to reconcile opposites which can not and should not be reconciled, like a man poking in open wounds with a broken heart.

Of course, the most obvious reference in this regard is the second movement of the “Sonata for alto saxophone and piano”, a tragic and remorselessly shattered lament. Albright introduces the downwardly bent progression on the piano, then allows the saxophone to support the dirge with a proud hymnal melody, which gradually fades into broken chords. Little by little, the track disintegrates, atonal disruptions breaking and entering at will, mirroring a psychological breakdown. After the scene has reached its climax, consolation sets in, sweetly rocking the last few minutes to sleep.

On other occasions, Albright uses slow tempos to focus on aspects of sound. He clearly loves the Saxophone’s character both in Jazz-settings as well as in chamber musical contexts and does not feel ashamed to rely on its original timbre (with the sole exception of “Pypes”, in which the Prism members try to emulate playing techniques of the bagpipe). The 25-minute, six-part “Fantasy Etudes for saxophone quartet” brings together a series of interrelated movements, opened by an introduction, in which all aspects melt into a vibrant, seamless collage.

Rhythm is another important element on “Music for Saxophones”, with either sub-groups of the quartet laying a foundation for the others to work on or complete passages being frantically repeated, leaving a sometimes devastating impression. Overall, the production of this album is rather aimed at displaying the instruments’ true colours, instead of distorting them spectacularly. But underneath this unadorned surface, a prismic world of happiness and drama unfolds unfettered, leading one closer towards a satisfying explanation with each step.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Prism Quartet
Homepage: Innova Recordings

Related articles

flag
GVSU New Music Ensemble: In C Remixed
The GVSU New Music Ensemble's ...
2009-11-19
flag
CD Feature/ Branford Marsalis: "Metamorphosen"
Good prep: A flurry of ...
2009-04-23
flag
15 Questions to Li Tieqiao
He's done it: After months ...
2008-12-18
flag
Interview with Laurie Spiegel
Laurie Spiegel can still vividly ...
2008-06-10
flag
15 Questions to Maile Colbert
Nietzsche may have had his ...
2008-06-10
flag
Gabriel Prokofiev: Concerto for Turntable rocks the RSNO
The grandson of one of ...
2008-06-04
flag
15 Questions to Johannes Maria Staud
Contemporary composers often have to ...
2008-06-03
flag
Vital Weekly 628
Frans de Waard presents the ...
2008-05-25
flag
15 Questions to Pedro Carneiro
When "Improbable Transgressions" was released ...
2008-05-25
flag
CD Feature/ Keith Kramer: "Casual Dualism"
Repeated rhythmical patterns & the ...
2008-05-23
flag
Vital Weekly 627
Frans de Waard presents the ...
2008-05-23
flag
CD Feature/ Erik Satie & Mike Svoboda: "Phonom├ętrie"
Gradually isolates certain aspects of ...
2008-05-09
flag
Impersonal Revelations
Important questions: Olivia Block's trilogy ...
2008-05-02
flag
CD Feature/ Vincent Bergeron: "Philosophie Fantasmagorique"
A visionary new music statement: ...
2008-04-28
flag
CD Feature/ William Stalnaker: "About Lear and Others"
Rhythmic elation: William Stalnaker is ...
2008-04-09
flag
Mike Svoboda: Phonometrie links Satie to Cage
Trombonist and Composer Mike Svoboda ...
2008-04-03
flag
CD Feature/ Henry Brant & Charles Ives: "A Concord Symphony"
Reconsiles Beethoven's Schicksals-theme: A fair ...
2008-02-25
flag
CD Feature/ Giancarlo Vulcano: "vetro"
Self-forgotten and detached from everything ...
2008-01-18
flag
CD Feature/ GVSU New Music Ensemble: "Steve Reich - Music for 18 Musicians"
Colour, melody, harmony, groove and ...
2007-12-01

Partner sites

ad