Brooklyn Sax Quartet: FAR SIDE OF HERELiner notes for Brooklyn Sax Quartet:
Far Side of Here
(OmniTone 12206)

"Transcendence is something
between a metaphor and a miracle." 

—Mason Cooley

There are many reasons for artistic expression, and among these are transcendence and existentialism.  Through their works, artists search for something new and strive to leave their mark for those to come.  They recognize that artistic expression, honorably offered from the heart, requires serious intent.

But some artists, especially those on the creative fringe, who work diligently to stay true to their distinctive new vision, confuse seriousness of intent with seriousness of the content of their work.  Saxophonist Sam Furnace was not one of them; he had a terrific sense of humor that complemented his sophisticated knowledge of music and impeccable playing skills.

"He had a keen interest in maintaining friendships with players," recalls tenor saxophonist and composer David Bindman of his late Brooklyn Sax Quartet bandmate.  "And he was very accepting of musicians so that, when you played with him, you didn't feel like there was an ego thing going on."

It's appropriate that Far Side of Here is dedicated to Sam Furnace (who also plays on half of the tracks), because the way people reacted to his balanced sense of feet-on-the-ground tradition and head-in-the-air transcendence is representative of the way audiences react to the Brooklyn Sax Quartet, a group he was an integral part of.

"The reaction has always been 'joyous,'" explains David.  "There's this sort of meeting between traditional, melodic, very rhythmic playing and more adventurous, avant garde —whatever you want to call it —playing.  Sometimes they're indistinguishable; they meld together as one."

Melding of styles and traditions and getting the right musical image across to the audience —replete with all its melody, harmony, and rhythm —can be challenging for a traditional four-horn saxophone quartet, especially without chordal and rhythmic instruments like piano and drums.  Not for the BSQ, whose strong compositions and experiences working together in other groups come together to make enthralling music.

The original BSQ, that included David, Sam, and baritone saxophonist/composer Fred Ho (with Chris Jonas on soprano), formed informally in 1995 after Fred organized a quartet to perform a commission he had written.  The natural chemistry between David, Sam, and Fred, which they had begun to discover while working together in Fred's Afro Asian Music Ensemble, and the desire of David and Fred to write for a four-horn ensemble launched the BSQ.  Far Side of Here, the group's second recording, spotlights some appealingly complementary compositions.

David's pieces, which he describes as being the product of "stream of consciousness writing," reflect his musical upbringing in both traditional jazz and New Music.  Bill Dixon, Arthur Brooks, and Stephen Horenstein, who taught at nearby Bennington College, opened David's mind to new ideas for making music and for improvising, based on stripping away constraints imposed by convention and focusing more on making "essential sound."

The resulting compositional method relies on metamorphosing a piece over a long gestation period.  For example, for "Spinning," David took a phrase he had written twenty years earlier and applied distinctive off-meter rhythms to extended the piece.  The title came from "a mental state," notes David, "and also the physical aspect of matter and movement."

Likewise, "Tie Me Sufre" (pronounced "teeay may soofray"), which means "listen to my cry" in the Twi language of the Akan people of Ghana, is a piece David had written 1985 when he was a member of Talking Drums, the Ghanaian-American ensemble led by Abraham Adzenyah.  What started out as a "very simple kind of minor blues piece" was set to Adowa funeral rhythms by the band and "reappropriated" for this recording with newly composed sections.

Baritone saxophonist, composer, writer, and producer Fred Ho's compositional contributions to the record, which David describes as "more structured and compact" and "very dense," reflect Fred's work as political activist.  He based "Fishing Song of the East China Sea" on a traditional Chinese folk song, adapted from the first movement of his Yellow Power Yellow Soul Suite, which was composed for bamboo flutes.

The Black Nation Suite is dedicated to the black liberation struggle.  The suite incorporates spirituals with signature overlaying of grooves and Fred's well-known stop-on-a-dime transitions.  Fred describes the four parts in this way:

"O, Freedom" (traditional).  Dedicated to Nat Turner and Harriet Tubman, revolutionaries who dared to rise up against their oppressors through armed rebellion.

"We Shall Overcome" (composed by Pete Seeger).  Dedicated to Dr Martin Luther King, Jr, and Ruby Doris Smith Robinson, who dared to assert that the proper response to unjust laws is to break them.

"Free New Afrika! Boogaloo." Dedicated to Queen Mother Audley Moore and Robert F Williams, who dared to challenge the oppressor's dogma of non-violence and to assert that the black liberation struggle was one against US imperialism.

"Song for a United Socialist Pan Africa" (composed in 1975 by Semenya McCord and originally titled "Song for Mozambique").  Dedicated to the elimination of scourge of AIDS and the entire system of monopoly capitalist, worldwide imperialism.

Beyond its varied compositions and musical stylings, Far Side of Here presents an excellent picture of the camaraderie and joie de vivre Sam brought to the BSQ and which continues among its members today.  Perhaps nowhere better is that joy apparent than in "Jajo" (pronounced "YAH-yo"), which means "egg" in Polish.  There's a buoyancy in the reggae-inspired sections of the piece, giving them a feel reminiscent of the WSQ, "with even a Bob Marley reference in there, which nobody will get," teases David.  (With his quick mind and wit, surely Sam would have gotten it.)

Now it's our pleasure to enjoy his work living on through the joyous sounds of the Brooklyn Sax Quartet.

           —Frank Tafuri

Buy Far Side of Here now at the OmniTone store.

©2013-5 OmniTone