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John O'Gallagher: The Anton Webern Project

C. Michael Bailey By

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John O'Gallagher: The Anton Webern Project Here's to avant-garde jazz. Unruly and ill-behaved, the seeds planted by saxophonists Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane, and carried forward by reed multi-instrumentalist Anthony Braxton and melded with trumpeter Miles Davis's Post-bop, gave rise to a brand of jazz that, while not the complete chaos of free jazz, nevertheless possessed such an inventive spirit that begged the listener to hear "what comes next." Layer this spirit with a cogent theme and an entirely new dimension to the music is revealed.

The only possible place that Austrian composer/conductor Anton Webern (1883-1945) could find in the jazz tent would be with the avant-garde, smoking cigarettes in the French style while drinking cognac. Webern was a principle in the Second Viennese of School of composers who promoted the use of a totally chromatic musical expressionism without firm tonal center—or, atonality. This was morphed into the serial twelve-tone technique most famously by Webern teacher Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951), influencing such composers as Alban Berg (1885-1935) and Hans Eisler (1898-1962).

O'Gallagher has long been associated with 12-tone music and takes the bull by the horns by adapting eight Webern pieces for his sextet plus voice. O'Gallagher is both mathematical and creative with his approach, staying close to Webern's melodic intention while trying to pull out the music's internal essence. The saxophonist states that the solos sections are either based on harmonies/trichord structures extracted from the twelve-tone rows each piece uses. The result is a musical extension of Miles Davis' 1970 augmented quintet featuring pianist Chick Corea, bassist Dave Holland, drummer Jack DeJohnette and saxophonist Wayne Shorter.

Using the Webern material tempers the wildness of the music without attenuating it. Using the score as direction, O'Gallagher deftly composes for Margret Grebowicz's voice on "Three Songs" and "Seventh Ring." The opener, "Schnell," and "Five Pieces" grandly uses Russ Lossing's Hammond organ to great and almost greasy advantage. Guitarist Pete McCann channels Dom Minasi on "Quartet."

Hardly music for the faint of heart, The Anton Webern Project contains a wealth of riches that pays off with multiple listens, bolstering the value of the often misunderstood jazz genre.


Track Listing: Schnell; Three Songs; Five Pieces; Quartet; Seventh Ring; The Secret Code; Ways Going Over; All This World.

Personnel: John O'Gallagher: alto saxophone; Matt Moran: vibraphone; Pete McCann: guitar; Russ Lossing: Hammond organ, Rhodes; piano; Johannes Weidenmuller: bass; Tyshawn Sorey: drums; Margret Grebowicz: voice.

Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: Whirlwind Recordings Ltd | Style: Modern Jazz


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