Heritage/Evolution, Volume 1
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Steve Lehman, Dave Liebman, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Greg Osby, Tim Ries, and Miguel Zenón
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January 27, 2015
“Every musical instrument tells many stories. In Heritage/Evolution, the saxophone takes center stage; its fascinating dual history in classical music and jazz leads PRISM and our guest artists through a collaborative process of discovery.” —Matthew Levy, PRISM’s co-founder, executive director and tenor saxophonist.
Constantly in search of new musical terrain, the PRISM Quartet (Timothy McAllister, Taimur Sullivan, Matthew Levy, and Zachary Shemon) celebrates its 30th anniversary with a groundbreaking recording: Heritage/Evolution, Volume 1. The 2 CD set features world premiere recordings of new works composed and performed by six saxophonists who defy convention: Steve Lehman, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Tim Ries, Miguel Zenón, Dave Liebman and Greg Osby.
Appending “Volume 1” to the title is a statement of intent: this is not a one-time project, but the first step in a major new initiative by the PRISM Quartet. Building on their own heritage, PRISM’s series of musical explorations documents an instrument and performance practice that continues to progress. Adolphe Sax’s signature invention has proven so versatile and adaptable that it has spread well beyond Europe. The past century and a half has seen the evolution of traditions of saxophone playing in India, in West Africa, in the Balkans, and in Latin America.
Heritage/Evolution, Volume 1 is a collection of distinctive pieces—a new fabric of saxophone repertoire—that draws on the instrument’s cross-cultural heritage, blending jazz with Western classical music, and an eclectic range of folkloric traditions.
The saxophone’s evolution will continue. As evolutionary biologists have pointed out, these things don’t just happen; there’s usually an outside agent (climate change, the introduction of a new species into the ecology, etc.) that provokes big evolutionary moments. For the sax, the PRISM Quartet has been and still is one of those agents, tirelessly exploring the possibilities of this most versatile instrument.
Heritage/Evolution is dedicated to the memory of Michael Whitcombe (1962-2013), PRISM’s founding alto saxophonist whose artistry and vision shaped the quartet for over 20 years.
"This outstanding studio session is the result of the Prism (saxophone) Quartet commissioning new pieces to the preeminent jazz saxophonists on the scene, to be performed live and accompanied by the Quartet. The six 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, but hearing each in the context of a saxophone quartet plus one shapes the performance in ways unexpected and often quite sublime. An album with countless stunning moments."
"PRISM Quartet: Heritage/Evolution, Volume 1 (2015) By KARL ACKERMANN, Published: February 5, 2015 PRISM Quartet: Heritage/Evolution, Volume 1 Not quite as well-known as the World Saxophone Quartet or the Rova Saxophone Quartet, the PRISM Quartet practices a unique approach to this category of ensemble playing. In part, PRISM takes a more direct aim on improvisation as opposed to the more blended method of WSQ or the openly free style of Rova. More idiosyncratic is the evolution of the quartet over three decades. When tenor player Matthew Levy founded the group in Michigan, its original mission was specific to a fault; performing the classical works of twentieth-century French composers. Early on, the prominent composer William Albright—whose musical interests ranged from ragtime to atonal—recommended a more avant-garde direction. It was advice that that Levy embraced and now PRISM's evolution comes closer than ever to the definable jazz world on Heritage/Evolution, Volume 1. The current quartet line-up consists of Timothy McAllister on soprano, Taimur Sullivan on baritone, alto player Zachary Shemon and Levy, the only original group member. The two-disc set also features compositions and performances from Steve Lehman, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Miguel Zenón, Dave Liebman, Greg Osby and former PRISM member Tim Ries. It's as superb a collection of modern, top-shelf saxophonists as one could find on a single release. The guest roster's collective jazz pedigree moves PRISM from third stream to improvisational jazz without abandoning the quartet's classical roots altogether. The compositional credits on Heritage/Evolution, Volume 1 are spread out among the guest performers with Mahanthappa and Osby each providing a single contribution but—in aggregate—well over thirty minutes of excellent music. Mahanthappa's "I Will Not Apologize For My Tone Tonight"—the best song title in recent memory—opens with long, fluid lines that lead up to choppy phrases that weave circuitously toward a Tom Waits-like burlesque of swirling reeds. Like the succeeding composition, Zenón's "The Missing Piece," the arrangements consist of melodic fragments; proxies for unlabeled movements, their pace rising and falling as they transition. Ries' "Name Game" pulls in a number of global influences from Middle-Eastern, klezmer, and bolero mixed in with harder swing elements. He and the quartet are joined by Zenón allowing the six players to independently change direction while keeping the sound full. The five-part suite, "15 Places at the Same Time"—also by Ries—incorporate moments of unruly dissonance and free improvisation—especially on "Solo" and "Radical Alignment"—loosely stitched together through the unbroken set. Osby's "Covenant of Voices" and Liebman's "Trajectory" occupy almost forty minutes of the second disc and the pieces are by turns animated, warm and spiked with surprising innovation. The album closes beautifully with John Coltrane's "Dear Lord." It is the intention of the PRISM Quartet that Heritage/Evolution, Volume 1 is just that—the first volume in a new experiment that tests the musical boundaries of the saxophone family. The quartet has in the past worked with the ensemble, Music from China, producing two highly unique albums. Another collection, Pitch Black (Innova, 2008), includes spoken passages from prison inmates and street preachers as well as Billie Holiday and Chet Baker. In some cases, PRISM loops and manipulates the voices making them surreal instruments. Experimentation is a way of life for this group and on Heritage/Evolution, Volume 1 they have a phenomenal album filled with illusion, atmosphere and great music."
"When the term "third stream" was coined in the later '50s, the convergence of modern classical and modern jazz was something of a novelty. (Though of course Duke Ellington was for years doing wonderful music that sometimes brought classical elements into his composing palette. And then there was Charles Mingus, too, in full-flower.) While the term fell out of use and the somewhat self-conscious movement that the term denoted disappeared as a unified entity, the melding of classical and jazz elements has far from disappeared. Their confluence is no longer considered exceptional, since the synthesis occurs across the stratum of possibilities these days. You can find all kinds of compositional elements in the jazz world that might not have been common 50 years ago. Similarly, improvising within new music realms flourishes, and on the classical side an inclusion of jazz or improvised elements is not uncommon. Mention must be made of the AACM artists and their important contributions from that time forwards. But of course there have been many others as well. A group that has been delving into conjoined utterances for 30 years, the PRISM Quartet of saxophones has been one of the more consistently interesting of the groups who have created dual-style repertoire and encouraged others to follow that muse via their successful example. Their latest, Heritage/Evolution, Volume 1 (Innova 906 2-CDs), gives us the staple quartet of McAllister, Shemon, Levy and Sullivan, plus the addition of six saxophonist-composers who contribute both their compositions and their distinctive solo abilities. The results give us a great deal of new music and lively improvising by PRISM and their guests Rudresh Mahanthappa, Miguel Zenon, Tim Ries, Steve Lehman, Greg Osby and Dave Liebman. Ries and Zenon both join the quartet for several compositions as do Osby and Liebman; otherwise the S.O.P. is the quartet and a single guest performer-composer. The two disks comprise a body of new music (plus a nice Liebman arrangement of Coltrane's "Dear Lord") that effectively hammers out a language (or I should say continues to do so, since PRISM has been addressing this for some time) which has modernist leanings both on the jazz and avant classical sides. The saxophone instrumentation and the considerable improvisatory skills of the players and their jazz backgrounds more or less guarantee that the jazz side of the coin is strongly present. Yet the compositions bring in the other elements on the classical side in greater or lesser degrees, and always with the sort of seamless veneer that comes out of a continued immersion in both worlds, either from close listening, from performance, or of course both. Unlike some of early Third Stream works, there is no feeling that "now we emphasize the jazz side, now classical." There is a much more thorough interpenetration that comes out of so many years where there has been both a conscious coexistence and a productive mutual assimilation. I will not run down the specifics of each composition here because probably each is better heard than spoken of at length--and I do not have the space and time at the moment for a description of so many worthy works. Suffice to say that this music convinces, rings true, conjoins the various elements so well that I strongly recommend the set to anyone who finds a serious foray into dualistic stylizations of interest. Or for that matter, anyone who is open to new music. Encore!"
"The Prism Quartet has celebrated its 30th anniversary by seeking out the company of like minds from another genre. The all-saxophone chamber ensemble has reached beyond the boundaries of classical music for material and collaborators before; this time they have commissioned pieces from notable jazz saxophonists, and the composers all make appearances on this disc. If you seek immersion in immaculate articulated sounds from across the saxophone spectrum, this album is for you. It’s hard to imagine any student of the instrument not being simultaneously enraptured and intimidated by the high standard of musicianship evident on this double CD. Prism’s members are all formidable players, capable of anything from gleaming, vibrato- free purity to elongated rhythmic passages. With that range comes flexibility. “15 Places At The Same Time,” by Steve Lehman, uses precisely calculated harmonies to create the illusion of electronic processing. The tender melodies and softened tones on Greg Osby’s “Covenant Of Voices” bring to mind ancient choral music. And Rudresh Mahanthappa consummates the longtime attraction of jazz saxophonists for Eastern motifs in the alap-like first section of “I Will Not Apologize For My Tone Tonight” before moving into a series of impressively precise executions of frightfully tricky unison passages. There are moments when the playing is overly slippery-clean; their performance of John Coltrane’s “Dear Lord,” in particular, could use a bit of grit. And the profusion of densely plotted saxophone music, while rich in tonal variety, can be a bit too rich, so that playing the entire album is like sitting down to a multi-course meal of double chocolate cake. But taken a piece at a time, there’s much to appreciate on Heritage/Evolution Volume 1. —Bill Meyer"