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Jon Raskin Quartet: The Bass and the Bird Pond

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Jon Raskin, a founding member of San Francisco’s ROVA Saxophone Quartet, shifts gears away from that group’s elaborately written and meticulously arranged investigations of color and movement to lock horns with New York alto saxophone maverick Tim Berne. Rounded out by bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Elliot Kavee, this record is no mere blowing session. Berne’s affinity for dense, labyrinthine compositions makes him a good match here. Three of the four tunes (three of which were penned by Raskin, one by Berne) clock in between 17 and 22 minutes, each unspooling with numerous dramatically varied episodes.

While all four musicians are accorded plenty of solo space, the most exciting moments arrive when the reedists improvise simultaneously, the tart, soul-streaked tone of Berne providing a wonderful contrast to Raskin’s more grainy, cerebral sound (on alto, baritone and sopranino saxophones). Although a manic forward motion characterizes Raskin’s “The Third Path to No Where”-Formanek’s propulsion here is inescapable-most of the material seems to hover ominously, and rigorous introspection rules the day. The elegiac “Chapter 269, Death,” which Raskin wrote for a friend who lost a partner to AIDS, ripples with sorrow and nagging anger, but the performance, like the rest of the album, ultimately provides uplift through the poignancy and control of its emotional expression.