The PRISM Quartet Bolster Their Cutting-Edge Sound with Jazz Sax Power for a Symphony Space Show

by delarue

Rock bands do this all the time: bring a better-known artist into the fold for a show or a cameo on an album. It usually works like a charm: the crowd comes out and merch gets moved. For their new double-cd magnum opus, Heritage/Evolution – streaming at Soundcloud – the PRISM sax quartet team up with several of this era’s best-known and most ambitious saxophonists for a series of tunefully cuttitng-edge new longscale works. And they’re bringing all this excitement and intensity to the stage at Symphony Space on June 10 at 7:30 PM, where the group – Taimur Sullivan, Zachary Shemon, Timothy McAllister and Matthew Levy – are joined by jazzguys Chris Potter and Ravi Coltrane. General admission is $22.

Rudresh Mahanthappa styles his opening number along the lines of a raga: slow, drony intro, then a lively theme and variations. While the ensemble pull out all the stops with an impressive display of circular breathing and then match the composer’s unreal, Bach-like precision throughout a long series of ideas that range from gracefully dancing, intricately conversational or raptly suspenseful, the pulse has a staccato energy rather than the lingering washes of classical sitar music. And yet, there are places here and on the rest of the album that cast the ensemble as more of a giant harmonium rather than a blend of individual voices.

Miguel Zenon contributes the hypnotically crescendoing X Marks the Square, as well as a new arrangement of the spirited, bubbling The Missing Piece, which make similarly lush launching pads for the composer’s energetic, tersely exploratory solos. And that’s Zenon providing the groove on percussion when he’s not joining the rest of the reedmen, with the addition of the Rolling Stones’ Tim Ries on the former for a total of six saxes in the band.

Ries provides the alternately bustling and brooding Name Day, allusively referencing the chromatically bristling harmonies of the Hungarian music he’s drawn so deeply on. Likewise, the album’s high point, Greg Osby‘s Covenant of Voices looks to the even more haunting, otherworldly close tonalities of Bulgarian choral music. Dave Liebman offers Trajectory, a clever study in multiple voices, and the effects of too many cooks in the kitchen. There’s a subtly satirical edge here – as a guy who’s been on the front lines of jazz improvisation for forty-plus years, Liebman has seen plenty of that.

Steve Lehman‘s mini-suite 15 Places At the Same Time creates a vertigo-inducing vortex of droning, flickering, pulsingly ghostly Japanese influences and all sorts of processing as well as some daunting extended technique for reverb and overtones. The album winds up with a bulked-up version of John Coltrane’s Dear Lord, also featuring Liebman. For those who might shy away from the idea of a sax quartet turbocharged with jazz talent, this is very tuneful, energetic, dynamic, accessible music: a wind quartet on steroids.