David Sherr and the Bel Air Jazz Ensemble: Otherworld Music (2008)
California saxophonist and composer David Sherr's music is like the meal one receives at that well conceived multi-ethnic restaurant. It delights with such unexpected entree combinations that work so well together, the patrons must reconsider their idea of what is good. I suspect that this is the intention of all art-on-the-edge. David Sherr's previous release, the Art Music Ensemble's Look Both Ways, combined Sherr compositions with and derived from selections by Claude Debussy and Luciano Berio. That result was a postmodern rendering of these 20th century masters through Sherr's well informed musical prism. Ever-present was Scherr's sure reeds, heavy on the soprano saxophone.
Sherr continues his musical post-modern considerations with Bach (that would be "J.S.") and bird-man Oliver Messiaen. This is an unlikely pairing of composers to be sure, but Sherr is never one to shy away from a challenge and he and the Bel Air Jazz Ensemble make it work. Sherr opens Otherworld Music with a 50 year-old Bach Aria Group performance of " Ich Will Den Kreustab Gerne Tragen" ("I will gladly carry the cross"), BWV 56, provided with generous permission by Bach Aria Group director William H. Scheide. This particular aria is one close to Sherr and he employs it liberally in his composition, "...Then Have I the Eagle's Powers, Then I Soar Up From This World." This is a lengthy piece, complex in nature, bordering on performance art.
"Then Have I..." opens with French dialog over a vibraphone, gradually German and English dialog are introduced over the French, achieving an effect not unlike what Uri Caine accomplished on "Iago's Credo" from The Othello Syndrome. The overlapping polyglot is a bit disconcerting when it gives way to the free music association to follow, which weaves in and out of solo sections, Sherr's sure soprano saxophone and Scott Higgins percussion. The Bach aria surfaces in a variety of formats throughout the long piece, always bringing the listener back to center.
Composer Oliver Messiaen gained fame in the 1960s with his transcriptions of bird songs for flute. Sherr takes full advantage of his flute skills, both on Messiaen's "Le Merle Nior" and his own mirror piece "Au Revoir Merle Noir." Sherr's compositional observations are as sharp as the original pieces he emulates. The final two pieces, "A Little Flight Music" and "The Muses" might be called the most standard jazz on the recording had they been composed by anyone else. Sherr pays tribute to saxophonist Don Byas on the former (with full orchestra) and to Plas Johnson and Sonny Criss on the latter (in soulful tenor recitative). Otherworld Music is indeed otherworldly.
Track Listing: Ich Will Den Kreuztab Gerne Tragen, BWV 56; ...Then Have I the Eagle's Powers, Then I Soar Up From This World; Le Merle Noir Pour Flute Et Piano; Au Revoir Merle Noir; Quartet for the End of Time: Abime Des Oiseaux; Medley: Quartet for the End of Time/Otherworld Music; A Little Flight Music; To the Muses.
Personnel: Cynthia Fogg: viola; Scott Higgins: percussion; Joe LaBarbera: drums; Harvey Newmark: bass; Tom Ranier: piano; David Sherr: soprano and alto saxophones: flute: clarinet; Brian Swartz: trumpet: flugelhorn; Amy Wilkins: harp.