Composer and jazz musician Michael Pagan has released 12 Preludes and Fugues on Tapestry Records. The original compositions have all been beautifully and meticulously performed and recorded by the Colorado Saxophone Quartet.
The 12 Fugues were completed in 2008 prior to being recorded by the Colorado Saxophone Quartet in 2009. According to composer Michael Pagan, “As a jazz musician I have always had a fascination with the saxophone and as a composer, with counterpoint. In March of 2007, practically on a whim, I wrote a fugue for four voices and immediately heard it for saxophones. Within a few days, three fugues had been written, and I began planning the set; choosing keys and thinking about the character of each fugue and how they might work as a collection.” Later a Prelude was added to each Fugue, thus completing the collection of pieces. The music was all recorded at Grusin Music Hall at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
Oddly enough, five saxophonists comprise this quartet on this recording. Clare Church is the sole baritone saxophonist. Kurtis Adams and Andrew Stonerock alternate tracks on alto saxophones. Lastly, Pete Lewis and Tom Meyer take turns on soprano and tenor saxophones. Dating back to 2005, the original members of the quartet include Kurtis Adams on alto. Due to “logistical circumstances” Andrew Stonerock was able to step in to complete the project with the quartet.
At the onset Prelude I sounds decisively “classical” in nature, however it is not long before the counterpoint begins to become more complex and contemporary sounding. Soon it is apparent that this is anything but a standard classical saxophone quartet recording. Pagan writes, “A number of these pieces contain jazz improvisation. There are also some written in jazz style sans improvisation, as well as some “third stream” and “neo-classical” pieces.
Prelude 4 showcases some particularly nice solo tenor work by Tom Myer. This is one my favorite pieces among the first few presented on 12 Preludes and Fugues. Prelude and Fugue VI features each member individually, with several opportunities to blow on Fugue VI. Tom Meyer swings hard on tenor and which is countered with some great playing from the remaining members as well.
Later on Track 14 – Fugue VII, Tom Meyer demonstrates that he is a very capable “classical” soprano saxophonist in addition to being a fine jazz tenor player. Pete Lewis enjoys a well-deserved solo on Prelude VIII, solidifying the fact that he is also very capable on soprano saxophone.
Another high point comes during Prelude XI, track 21 at 1:28. Pete Lewis Soprano soars and floats beautifully over the jazz waltz feel laid down by Adams, Myer and Church. It is a short-lived but sweet passage indeed.
Although it is difficult to describe music, it may be helpful to read Michael Pagan’s liner notes as one listens. He has taken the time to thoroughly explain some background information for each composition. Pagan has also made the pieces available in print from the link below. The bulk of Pagan’s quartets sound very playable for good high school and college level quartets. There are some more difficult passages to perform however nothing in the writing sounds overtly technical. That may be a credit to the ensemble as much as Pagan’s writing.
Throughout the recording the various configurations which make up The Colorado Saxophone Quartet work well to make some well-balanced and enjoyable music. The ensemble has a wonderful blend, sense of time and musicality. Anyone who is a fan of outstanding saxophone quartet playing should have this cd on their shelf. If, on the other hand, you are not a fan of saxophone quartet music, this recording may very well change your opinion for the better.
You can find out more about Michael Pagan at michaelpaganmusic.com