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PRISM Quartet with Joe Lovano at the Painted Bride

Victor L. Schermer By

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After the intermission, the real cyclotronic collision of the jazz and classical modalities began to take place, first at a low velocity with composer Robert Carl's "Duke Meets Mort," the latter referring to classical composer Morton Feldman in an imaginary musical encounter with Duke Ellington. Here, you heard, within a modern classical framework, echoes of the Duke, especially "Sophisticated Lady," but you began to wonder, where is the jazz? The feeling was like jazz being housed like a dinosaur in the Museum of Natural History, and this is where the difficulty of merging genres began to appear.

The conundrum blasted off into outer space with Joe Lovano's seven movement piece, "Super Sonix." First let me say that this is a remarkably kaleidoscopic work, rich with musical allusions, both jazz and classical, extraordinary sound combinations, and ample opportunities for everyone to improvise. One could ignore the distraction of Lovano moving about the stage, picking up various saxophones, going over to the gongs, and then sitting himself at a full drum set to knock out rhythms that were a cross between Gene Krupa and Kenny Clarke. The real excitement was when he played saxophone with the quartet, churning out breath-taking improvisations that built to a crescendo of co- improvised Coltrane-like ascents. This was the high-energy particle collision you were waiting for, the CERN Large Hadron Collider revealing the Higgs Boson, bursts of sound that told you that matter was being converted into massive amounts of energy.

But—and this is the crux of the matter—my sense was that the jazz idiom was still housed in a museum-like structure, that it was referred to in the past tense rather than experienced in the moment. (It is not that the music was largely composed. Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue and Charles Mingus' Epitaph are examples of through-composed music that is highly structured in the classical European way. But they are infused with the special ingredient that we call jazz.) Jazz is spontaneous, personal, flowing in the now. Somehow, with all the brilliance, complexity, and sophistication of this performance, it didn't quite make it into "the zone." The lack of that intangible called "swing" may have had something to do with it. I should add that this is not a criticism of Lovano or the PRISM Quartet. As Don Byron once said, "God doesn't care if it's jazz or not." It's just a matter of the mind set that the listener brings to a concert. More and more today, music should be heard in its own terms, not necessarily as a specific genre.

Set List: (All world premier performances except "Night Music" and "Duke Meets Mort") "Night Music" (Emma O'Halloran); Refraction (Reiny Rollock); Super Sonix: Following the Sound (Lovano); Forbidden Drive (Matthew Levy); Duke meets Mort (Robert Carl); Supersonix (Lovano) Sound Sculpture, Worldless Stories, Natural Beauty, On a Roll, Hipsters and Flipsters, Folowing the Sound.

Personnel: Featured Artist: Joe Lovano; Prism Quartet Saxophones: Timothy McAllister, soprano; Zachary Shemon, alto; Matthew Levy, tenor; Taimur Sullivan, baritone.


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