Short Stories: American Music for Saxophone Quartet

Short Stories: American Music for Saxophone Quartet

by Ancia Saxophone QuartetAncia Saxophone Quartet


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The Ancia Saxophone Quartet, based out of Minneapolis-St. Paul, certainly knows better; it has been playing together since 1990, which practically places it as pioneers in what remains a growing field of ensembles in the United States versus the established field in Europe. Despite a long tenure, the group's Naxos disc Short Stories appears to be the first release for this group on an established label and only the second after its own, self-released effort, Variations. Naxos' Short Stories is interesting in that in a sense all of its program of six contemporary -- and one "classic" -- works can be measured to the extent that they relate to jazz, from basically not at all (Ives) to transforming a standard jazz piece into something new (Jelly Roll Morton; Fred Sturm). This Naxos disc takes its name after the key Jennifer Higdon work on the program, also titled "Short Stories" though one might wish it had a different title, as there are so many albums out there that share it, including a very well-known one by the Kronos Quartet. Though the title work is a suite made up of several short movements, as whole it is not "short"; it goes through a variety of moods, and its odd numbered movements move from a free jazz-like kind of looseness to a Third Stream-y adventure among pitches. The quiet movements, however, work very well, reminiscent as they are of the French tradition in the saxophone quartet; "Coyote Nights" has attractive qualities of nebulousness as well. Fred Sturm takes Coleman Hawkins' 1948 tenor solo "Picasso" and weaves a bewitching texture out of it; Michael Torke's "July" -- written originally for the English group the Apollo Saxophone Quartet -- is a bright, summery meditation painted in mildly minimalistic hues and gentle syncopation. Syncopation also comes to the fore in Matthew Sintchak's arrangement of the Chorale movement from Ives' "First String Quartet, From the Salvation Army." Ives' combination of open, hymn-like harmony and more chromatic gestures derived from German romanticism is a perfect fit for the medium of the saxophone quartet; the horns afford the piece a bright new dimension in terms of color, and it's a very good arrangement. The Carleton Macy and David Bixler pieces are less immediate; the seven movements of Bixler's "Heptagon" are all based around a three-note theme; some listeners might conclude that the treatment of the theme works a little better in some movements than others, though all are quite short. Overall, Short Stories is a strong showing even if some of the music isn't quite up to exposing the gifts of this talented group; it leaves one hoping for more, and it was wise to include the Morton track at the end, as it is a bright, attractive, and snappy sendoff.

Product Details

Release Date: 07/28/2009
Label: Naxos American
UPC: 0636943961629
catalogNumber: 8559616
Rank: 127477


  1. String Quartet No. 1: From the Salvation Army, for string quartet, S. 57 (K. 2A1)
  2. Short Stories, for 4 saxophones
  3. Picasso Cubed, for 4 saxophones
  4. July, for saxophone quartet
  5. Heptagon, for 4 saxophones
  6. Elusive Dreams, for 4 saxophones & accordion
  7. Black Bottom Stomp

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