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Spooky Actions: Quartet for the End of Time

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The young Olivier Messiaen famously composed and premiered "Quartet for the End of Time in 1940-41 as a prisoner of the Nazis during World War II. One can apply just about as much meaningful drama to this story as one wants. It has even been suggested that Messiaen defeated the Nazis, in spirit at least, with this work of art before the physical act could be accomplished by the Allied powers. In any case, the work is widely worshipped. In The New Yorker, Alex Ross recently called it "The most ethereally beautiful music of the twentieth century, and it would be difficult to find a significant critical voice that would deny its status as a major modern masterpiece and a milestone in the history of music, indeed of art.

And so it's natural that the composer and his works—especially this work—have had many admirers and no shortage of musicians eager to take on the challenge of playing it. A band called Spooky Actions has issued its take, "arranged for jazz quintet.

This attempt lacks everything but heart. No noticeable traits of jazz are heard, save the instrumentation (soprano saxophone, guitar, piano, bass and drums). While the piece is executed more or less as it was written, the altered instrumentation robs it of its intended effect and the unimaginative interpretation doesn't compensate for this loss with any fresh ideas. Although John Gunther's soprano sax almost suitably substitutes for clarinet, he falls far short of the subtle expressivity of violin. David Philips quixotically attempts to stand in for cello with bowed bass. And so forth.

By approaching the music straightforwardly, Spooky Actions sets itself up for comparison with the better classical recordings of the piece and by this standard comes off poorly to say the least. If a jazz band wants to play classical music, it'd better be good at it and then it wouldn't be likely to be a very good jazz band, would it? It's too bad Spooky Actions didn't realize this and either try to make Messiaen swing or simply try another idea.

Track Listing: Movement #1 - Liturgie de cristal; Movement #1 Improv; Movement #2 - Vocalise, pour l'ange qui annonce la fin du temps; Movement #2 Improv; Movement #3 - Abime des oisedux; Movement #4 - Intermede; Movement #4 Improv; Movement #5 - Louange a l'eternite de Jesus; Movement #6 - Danse de la fureur, pour les sept trompettes; Movement #6 Improv; Movement #7 - Fouillis d'arcs-en-ciel, pour l'ange quiu annonce la fin du temps; Movement #7 Improv; Movement #8 - Louange a l'Immortalite de Jesus.

Personnel: John Gunther: soprano saxophone; Bruce Arnold: electric guitar; Tony Moreno: drums; David Phillips: bass; Aaron Jackson: piano

Title: Quartet for the End of Time | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Muse Eek


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