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Rova — Bingo
(Victo CD 056, 1997, CD)
by Mike King, Published 1999-04-01
For 20 years now, California's Rova Sax Quartet has been unrelentingly pursuing the ambitious task of inventing new music from the most traditional instrumental family in jazz history – the woodwinds. Their case and craft have neither gone unnoticed nor achieved a widespread profile, but this new DC release presents a wealth of extraordinary music that deserves much greater recognition. Bingo is comprised largely of commissioned works from three of England's foremost composers: Lindsay Cooper, Barry Guy, and Fred Frith. You know who they are and the riches they're responsible for, so by now biographical background and artistic acclaim must rest as self-evident.The 68 minute journey (as guided by the four horns of the apocalypse) begins with Lindsay's "Face in a Crowd," which begins with a lone, impassioned soprano cry that slowly evolves to a series of brilliant cyclical phrases, unfolding a musical experience wholly and uniquely Lindsay Cooper. This climaxes with an extended multi-horn chord that must be heard to be believed. Her "Can of Worms" is no less magnificent, and both are worth the price of admission. This view is not to diminish the quality of the other compositions, for they, too, offer much for your attention and appreciation. Frith's "Water under the Bridge" (dedicated to Jimmy Giuffre) features a Balkanesque melody line with shadowed sub-sections, twisting in character to his writing style. The Rovas excel at playfully conveying his sensibility. There are two readings of Barry Guy's "Witch Gong Game," with the longer and most demanding stretched to 26 minutes. Now there's an enigmatic epic worthy of the most experienced new music listener! Throughout it all, Rova invests the music full of visceral passion and technical brilliance, often breathtakingly so. Never do they bog down into collective chaos or fly into grandstanding solos for its own sake. They're a faultlessly cohesive unit offering a genuinely new contribution to the ongoing, if now rarefied, lexicon of the saxophone quartet. Highly recommended.
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