Morphological Echo

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While the title of the CD is obscure in and of itself, the long work that makes up this CD, "Maintaining the Web Under Less Than Obvious Circumstances," is a series of works that showcases ROVA's particular saxophone genius at creating games on the spot during performances. The strategies they developed for these games were created after working with composer -- and ultimate musical gamesman -- John Zorn on creating 20 different devices that could be used in performance to create extended possibilities for improvisation during a scored composition. These strategies are impressive because in the six pieces that make up this work, and the one outside it that is added here ("Grace" by Steve Adams and Larry Ochs), one can actually see Rova itself evolve as a saxophone quartet during the piece. No longer is there a distinction in their border straddling between European "new music," and good old Yankee free jazz. There is only Rova's own music, a clearinghouse for excellence from all quarters. This is most evident on the piece "The Web," where a series of cues are determined by one player which requires the second player to comment upon them while stating them, and in turn cues the remaining pair to create an entirely new set of phrases from the improvisation by the second player who has to respond to them. The first player then creates his next improvisational idea from the sum total and the work rotates, moving from player to player until all have played all the different parts. No duration or cadence is demanded of any player and, therefore, the work is original, new every time is it performed. Perhaps the most beautiful work here is "Grace," which closes the set. Grace is a completely scored work that sets itself apart from the rest of the recording not only by its methodology, but also by its approach to sonic texture and structure. Long, slowly winding lines are led by a front line of an alto and tenor, with dynamic sensibilities pushed to the side in favor of tonal restraint. The two other players begin to solo, first together and then one at a time, like singers, still restrained by pre-conceived tonal framework and dynamic absence. The music resounds from the architectural space itself -- in this case San Francisco's Grace Cathedral -- creating microtones from the vibrating interaction of the four saxophones. It is haunting and profoundly stark -- especially for Rova. Summarily, Morphological Echo is another truly wonderful recording in the already magnificent catalog of one of America's most important ensembles in any genre of music.

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