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Andy Middleton: The European Quartet Live

By now, the music on this disc is three years old and its U.S. release comes a year after it dropped in Europe. Yet the lag time doesn’t take anything away from this live set by U.S. native Andy Middleton and his European Quartet. Middleton, who now calls Vienna home, plays soprano sax and occasional tenor. The proceedings begin with the straight-swinging “Mister Jorge,” which gets an immediate jolt from the double-stops that bassist Paul Imm uses to start the song. Harmonically, the piece moves in unexpected directions and gives the leader’s puckish soprano plenty of ideas to work with.

It might be the suggestion of the quartet’s continent, but the disc does bear some resemblance to other European groups and perhaps the artists of the ECM label, in the way they utilize space within improvisation and non-jazz concepts as the basis of several compositions. “Cherry Street,” a pensive ballad, begins with a blast of sustain and slow-moving phrases before gradually picking up the pace. “Christus Factus” is based on a Gregorian chant that finds new life as a free-flowing ballad. Middleton built “Afghan Caravan Song” around a traditional Afghani melody, adding his own harmony and changes to create something introspective without any self-conscious attempt to fuse cultures. It’s simply a more creative springboard for improvisation. Although this music stays on the gentle side, it has a lot of vital power to it.

Originally Published