The saxophone is an instrument that firmly established the concept of groove in jazz and popular music in the twentieth century, and with the collection of works on the aptly-titled Groove Machine, the h2 quartet extracts that aesthetic and shows that it’s alive and well in the postmodern art music of today. The recording title comes directly out of the first work by the postminimalist composer Marc Mellits. His Revolution Quartet uses the four saxophones of h2 to unabashedly showcase the strong influence of rock music on contemporary American composers. From the intricately-weaved minimalist lines of “Groove Canon,” the quirky stop-start rhythms of “Mara’s Toys” to the driving, guitar-derived power chords of “Groove Machine,” one feels the myriad of pop music that flavored New York during the 1980s and changed the world over the last few decades. From there, the recording takes a short-lived journey back to mid-century modernism with the beginning of Univocity by composer Amy Williams. The pointillist chords of the opening soon sputter into a highly-charged rhythmic machine, using the quartet as a single unit, with occasional outbursts from all four players. Local flavors dominate for the next two works of the recording, with Tango Virtuoso by Thierry Escaich as a nod to the lasting popularity of the concert tango (a la Piazzolla), and Murray Gross’ The Wild Wild West as a fresh setting of American-styled western harmonies (think Aaron Copland meets Elliot Carter). The second major work on Groove Machine is a concert setting of dance rhythms and melodies which are perhaps lesser-known than the tango, but certainly no less important. Composer Victor Marquez Barrios successfully blends Ragtime, Brazilian Choro, Venezuelan folk tunes, and the Pambiche (a cousin of merengue) into the four movements of his Saxteto, showing the incredible versatility of the h2 quartet. Groove Machine closes with a work that sums up the recording, as well as the strength of this ensemble: the presentation of contemporary works that are both challenging and provocative, yet remain highly appealing to a wide audience. Engrenages (French for “gears”) by Alexandros Markeas is a collaborative work for saxophone quartet and improviser. The ensemble goes through several gears in an intense few minutes, from syncopated grooves to complicated rhythmic stabs. Pianist Sergei Kvitko moves ably from late Romantic virtuosity to the walking bass of a jazz combo, maintaining the pulsing rhythms and subtly-changing harmonies that make this recording a whirlwind from start to finish.
released April 2, 2012
Sergei Kvitko, engineer. Robyn Porteen, photography.