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A Rare Thing

Artist: 774th Street Quartet
774th Street Quartet - A Rare Thing CD
Label: Bloody Murder
Regular Price: $14.95
On Sale For: $7.48 
Year: 2007
Format: CD


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With the World Saxaphone Quartet and ROVA, the saxaphone quartet became a part of the fabric of avant-garde Jazz although its presence is perhaps not quite as felt as it was a decade ago. So I guess the 774th Street Quartet is a bit of "a rare thing". The 774th Street Quartet is the latest addition to this format. The most well-known member of this group is saxophonist/composer Guillermo Gregorio. The other members of the quartet include two Chicago Jazz scene stalwarts (Jackson and Shelton) and German saxophonist Mejer. As one would suspect in a saxophone quartet involving Argentinean avant-gardist Gregorio, this quartet is a bit different. First of all, there is no soprano saxophone to be found. Secondly, there is no baritone. It's Thomas Mejer's contrabass saxophone, a big rumbling beast that he handles with deft and agility, that gives this group its distinctive blend. And the fact that all four composed pieces for this group gives it a distinctive edge.

Unlike other saxophone quartets, this ensemble is not necessarily a showcase for soloists. A major component of their music likes in group texture. Mejer is a fairly agile player on his chosen instrument and his sound isn't limited to merely a low grumble in the ensemble. At times he sounds like a low frequency hum, electronically generated as the other saxaphones are stacked atop him. On Shelton's "Fastened" it starts out with somber harmonies before sequeing into a pointilillist secton where Mejer's bass sax's scored notes seem to collide with the others, bouncing them into the stratosphere. It's a nice bit of writing. For Jackson's "They All Change" Mejer and Gregorio's alto play an ostinato pattern around which the other two saxes intertwine their lines. Gregorio's "Otra Music 5" utilizes a subtle electronic drone that fleshes out the group sound and provides an edgy texture that counter balances an off-kilter, almost jaunty theme. At times saxaphones mass for a thick, full, rich sound, as they do on Shelton's "Riviera" with its passages scored for clarinet, alto, tenor and contrabass. Every track seems to adopt a different tack and each track has something to offer. Well worth hearing and hope this is a group that will stick around for a while. - Robert Iannapollo, Cadence 2007

Guillermo Gregorio, Keefe Jackson, Thomas Mejer, Aram Shelton (saxohones)
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