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Quintessence Saxophone Quintet: Best of 10 Years - Live
Uli LETTERMAN (b. 1967) Prelude [5:44]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827), Letterman (b. 1967) The Fifth, first set [5:48]
J.S. BACH (1685-1750), Letterman (b. 1967) Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme [3:55]
Chick COREA (b. 1941), Letterman (b. 1967) La Fiesta [5:50]
J.S. BACH (1685-1750), Letterman (b. 1967) Jazzentials [6:57]
G.F. HANDEL (1685-1759), Letterman (b. 1967) Hallelujah [6:52]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827), Letterman (b. 1967) Overture Coriolan
J.S. BACH (1685-1750), Letterman (b. 1967) Fudge Fugue in G minor
J.A.P. SCHULTZ (1747-1800), Letterman (b. 1967) Der Mond ist aufgegangen
Uli Lttermann, soprano and alto saxophone
Hartmut Salzlmann, alto saxophone
Tom Göstenmeier, tenor saxophone
Andreas Menzal, tenor saxophone
Bernd Stich, baritone saxophone
Recorded at Westdeutscher Rundfunk Köln, Landesstudio des WDR, Bielefeld, 12 June 2003 DDD
CPO 999 990-2 [49:59]


Musical reinvention can be a dangerous thing. When properly executed, it takes us on a journey through a fun and enlightening musical journey, with the original composers brilliance spotlighted in unsuspecting ways. When ill executed, one is left wondering only what the arranger was thinking when he came to this ill-conceived notion. As the saxophone was invented in 1842, as documented by Hector Berlioz, most of these composers were dead before the featured instrument on this recording was conceived. This is therefore the very essence of musical reinvention: taking the great works of the world’s greatest baroque and romantic composers and translating them to an instrument ensemble that is truly emblematic of the modern era. The result is a mixed bag: some musical gems and other works that would have been best left on the shelf.

The ensemble is at its peak when performing the original work "Prelude" and Chick Corea’s "La Fiesta", both of which are well suited to the timbre and the idiosyncrasies of the saxophone. Also the fifth selection on the CD, "Jazzentials", is surprisingly tender and moving piece based on the work of Bach. It is among the best of the musical reinventions attempted by Quintessence.

However, on their Handel Hallelujah Chorus and Beethoven "Coriolan", intonation issues abound, and the arranging is somewhat suspect. While the musicians themselves are certainly gifted and talented players, unison parts for soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxophones focus undue attention on the shortcomings of saxophone tuning in general, and makes those limitations appear as a reflection on the players. There is certainly a reason that you will hear musicians say that tuning is "close enough for jazz". Due to the complex colorations of jazz chords this is often a correct statement. The expectations of a listener accustomed to the traditional works from which these pieces are derived are higher; unfortunately they are simply not met. As this recording was done live, a certain amount of understanding must be given to intonation problems where they occur, especially when the lead player is making instrument changes, as Uli Letterman does several times. However the issue is too prevalent to overlook completely.

While I applaud the attempt at bringing together a new look at these well known works, and expanding the repertoire for saxophone quintet, this is not a disc that can be considered essential to any recording save those for whom both classical music and saxophone ensembles are of the utmost interest. Quintessence has put out better work in the past (their recording "To the Point" being a personal favorite). These selections are better suited to more traditional instrumentations. My suggestion is to congratulate Quintessence on ten years of good music and to look forward to their next release.

Patrick Gary



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