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Four of a Kind-- Miami Saxophone Quartet

The Miami Saxophone Quartet may be a bit more mainstream than the World Saxophone Quartet, but it is certainly no less engaging. Founded in 1996 by soprano saxophonist Gary Keller, the MSQ consists of Keller, Gary Lindsay on alto, Ed Calle on tenor, and Mike Brignola on baritone. All four came out of the University of Miami music program, where both Keller and Lindsay have taught for decades, and Calle and Brignola have been on the faculties of Miami Dade College and Florida Atlantic University respectively. Keller, Lindsay, and Calle have extensive jazz, pop, classical, and/or Latin credits between them, while Brignola is best known for his long association with the Woody Herman Orchestra both before and after Woody's passing. The MSQ's fifth CD presents live performances from concerts at the University of Miami's Gusman Concert Hall in 2010 and 2012, with an expanded ensemble that included pianist Jim Gasior, bassist Chuck Bergeron, drummer John Yarling, and special guests Brian Lynch on trumpet and Svet Stoyanov on vibes and marimba. Lindsay's arrangements of standards and his own originals, often contrapuntal in nature, accentuate the MSQ's cohesion and rapport, and also afford ample room for incisive and individualized improvisations.

Other than the first and third "movements" of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star," which Calle arranged, all the other writing was done by the Grammy nominated Lindsay. The first section has an endearing chorale quality, followed by a multi-strained, harmoniously blended waltz. The finale is a heartily funky romp that concludes this a cappella group effort. Gasior introduces Lindsay's catchy "Don't Look Back," the theme as played by the four horns, and the pianist takes the first effervescent solo. The ensuing intricate contrapuntal interlude displays Lindsay's skillful writing, and is succeeded by Brignola's expressive improv, and, after the band's reprise, Lindsay's biting out chorus over Gasior's trickling runs. Lindsay plays his mysterious, film noirish "Lost (and Found)," with Calle embellishing the bridge and four horn parts interspersed. Gasior's reflective solo is enhanced by further harmonization by the saxophones. After a slight pause, an up tempo section transpires, with still more sinuous unison passages and wailing, bluesy Keller soprano. Bergeron's commanding bass excursion leads back to a now transformed, more robust version of the theme by the four saxes.

Brignola's baritone, as Harry Carney often did with Duke Ellington, unveils the familiar melody of "Sophisticated Lady" with a warm, inviting tone, as the other horns waft gently behind him. Gaisor improvises at length with thematic flair, and Lindsay's interpretation is equally profound. Brignola returns for the final say, at times gruff or chortling, but consistently illuminating, before a reprise wraps up this superlative Lindsay arrangement. Lindsay composed "Prelude-Invention-Suspension" to feature Stoyanov's marimba, whose unaccompanied intro develops the thematic content, at first in ethereal and then more urgent fashion. The horns proceed to chase one another spiritedly in expanding upon Stoyanov's work. Keller's exultant soprano solo precedes additional nimble four-part harmonies, from which emerges Calle's intensely driven statement. The last finely woven group sequences cap this compelling 10:17 selection.

Ralph Burns' "Early Autumn" (an early hit for Stan Getz) spotlights trumpeter Lynch, and Lindsay's arrangement finds the saxophones interweaving pliantly behind Lynch, and also occasionally moving zestfully up front. Lynch handles the theme, and his solo and coda, with grace and aplomb. Lindsay reworks Dave Brubeck's "It's a Raggedy Waltz" at length after Gasior's prancing theme rendition. The fresh horn motifs and lyrical alterations never lose sight of the original melody, and neither do the heartfelt and persuasive examinations by Brignola, Gasior, Keller, and finally Calle, whose preaching, bristling tenor raises the roof. "Sweet Bread" is a Lindsay blues with an infectious staccato line, which lends itself to the rousing solos that unfold from the composer (swaying and piercing), Brignola (bottomless and swinging), Calle (elated with post bop overtones) Keller (swirlingly ardent), and Lynch (exploring all his generous range). Each is supported by bracing horn configurations and Yarling's prodding and proficient drumming.

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Scott Albin