|The Way of the Saxophone - Liner Notes, by David Bindman, September 23, 2000|
There are many threads through which the four saxophonists find their way through this music. The WAY OF THE SAXOPHONE is full of ideas in common -- historical, comical, saxophonistic, those based on friendship -- yet as quickly as the group's ideas converge, as the threads are joined, someone is splitting off again.
There are deeply personal, and different, reasons why we play this music. Some can be described: the joy of interacting in a performance with each other and with people listening; of composing a long tale; of dancing to joyful sound; of finding moments in improvisations where notes rub together in subtle and unexpected ways, and where time and rhythmic phrases diverge and reconverge on the heart beat.
THE WAY OF THE SAXOPHONE is a highly structured work, yet improvisation is at its core. There are many reference points, yet not consciously so. The constant divisions between musical styles, the pigeonholing, typecasting, museumification, absolutism and dogmatism will be difficult to apply here. The sounds of harmonically rooted blues-based traditions have permeated our ears and brains; yet the possibilities of leaving that behind for a moment, of dealing with sound and its shape in unpredicated and unstylized ways, also invite us.
When I began composing for the group, it was like a great appealing canvas. The four saxes offered a chance to write rich harmonies and to find moments of counterpoint; yet four original voices had to work as an ensemble. How can a complete story be crafted out of four seemingly similar sounding instruments? But there are so many sounds possible with a saxophone and so many "ways". Even how time is felt is completely different among the four people.
We each have very different approaches to our instruments and to improvisation. In rehearsal, we always go through a new discovery: how to play with dynamics and nuance when there's no bass, drums or piano, no rhythmic pulse or time-keeper, no chords marking where we are. It's all in the saxophone playing. Four soloists become four accompanists and visa versa.
Fred Ho and I formed the BSQ in 1995 informally, with changing personnel, after playing Fred's "Beyond Columbus and Capitalism" for several benefit concerts around New York, including those for Brooklyn's Park Slope Food Coop. Sam Furnace, Fred Ho and I had already worked together often in Ho's ensembles (The Underground Railroad to My Heart, SoulNote, 1994 and other CD's). Chris Jonas joined the BSQ in 1997.
"Climate Conditions" derives its name from the particularly hot, chokingly polluted NY summer when it was written, a condition which causes one to wonder about the constant debate over whether global warming is real, while at the same time this wondrous planet is treated as a wastebasket. It is a multi-movement piece which has many elements that fit together like a puzzle, with themes woven throughout and coming back in different forms, solos rising out from this carefully created fabric.
Fred Ho wrote "Hipster Harvey" as a tribute to Harvey Lichtenstein of the Brooklyn Academy of Music. It exemplifies Fred's uncompromising attitude, and his penchant for finding influences from all sources. Super-high-pitched rhythmic unison lines, layers of funk cross-rhythms, an R&B-tinged ballad, and a bossa nova, all in one piece?
Duke Ellington's "In a Sentimental Mood" is simply one of the most beautiful songs ever written. This arrangement begins and ends with the first phrase of the melody split apart and distributed out to the different saxes in different tonalities and non-symmetrical note groupings. The ensemble dwells on dissonant chord voicings; a deconstructed melody eventually converges into the heart of the song.
"Gadzo", based on Eve warrior music (Ghana), is inextricably linked to dance movements and drum calls. It will forever bring to my mind Freeman Donkor's airborne and eternally elegant dance. Taught to members of Talking Drums in 1983, the piece has metamorphosed from the Talking Drums rendition, with vocals and traditional Eve drumming. In Royal Hartigan's quartet rendition entitled "Eve" (BloodDrumSpirit, 1993), the drum calls and responses are played on drum set. My interpretation, with new composed material, was first recorded in sketch form with the David Bindman Trio (Imaginings, CIMP, 1997, with Joe Fonda and Kevin Norton). Our BSQ version has all the voices and no drums.
"Pier Sketch" is a joyful piece with some very open interaction between alto and tenor, going off in all directions, then eventually honing in on the theme. The piece derived its name from a time we played on the Hudson River waterfront, a place which suggests the struggle between raw natural beauty besides the fleeting yet awesome ability of humans to construct an alternate reality.
"Jitterbug waltz" winds its way into the melody, with the shape of the tune becoming first molded into rhythmic phrases which suggest the song, follow its contours, but offer some different harmonic ideas. It is a song that always raises my spirits -- the song's unique motion is a perfect saxophone fit.
This recording has many unplanned moments, where voices converge and are dispersed in collections of sparks which can only be at that moment in that piece the way it is there and never again. It is a brief studio glimpse into one day/performance.