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Music Review: The Broken Reed Saxophone Quartet – The Sound of a Broken Reed

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Charley Gerard, the director and composer for the Broken Reed Saxophone Quartet (BRSQ), possesses a rare collection of talents not often seen together. Versatile and virtuosic in his playing and composition, he has a way of coaxing the beautiful from the unexpected. With his diverse influences — from jazz and swing to Latin and classical — and his liberal tapping of the imagination, his arrangements are thoughtful and exuberant, and his performances are as formally impeccable as they are playful.

You have only to hear his recreation of the Vivaldi Classic, “Four Seasons, Four Saxes, New Four-Casts” in The Sound of a Broken Reed to know that you are listening the work of a deeply talented composer. Gerard fuses fun listening with dissonant sound. He is even good at the elusive, imprecise science of improvisation, while maintaining a strong sense of control when playing his arrangements. His headier music often functions as a mosaic — artistically assembled bits of sound strung together by his expert composing and the perceptive performances from the BRSQ group members. Together, they transport their audience everywhere, from New Orleans jazz clubs and the swinging sixties, to the Baroque period and the pages of poetry and popular culture.

The BRSQ is comprised of five players that rotate in the quartet — Chris Bacas, Jenny Hill, Alden Banta, and Tom Olin, in addition to Gerard. As its name implies, the group is as linked by its sense of humor as it is by its unique sound. They do justice to Gerard’s innovative compositions; the diverse and extensive experience of each of the members is amply reflected back in the cumulative sound.

"A Whole Lotta Led: A Suite of Led Zeppelin Songs" (including “Whole Lotta Love,” “Heartbreaker,” “Dazed and Confused,” “Kashmir,” and “Loving Maid”) are recompositions that yield a seamless, super stylish Zeppelin-Gerard hybrid that will knock your musical socks off. The songs feature unlikely, yet ultimately satisfying, pairings. The strength of this section stems from the highly literate nature of Gerard’s music. His compositions don’t merely speak to one another; they engage in dialogue with the whole history of music, resulting in unusual and extraordinary creations, such as “A Whole Lotta Led.”

Gerard wrote “Rock Garden,” in his twenties. Its final movement, “Now Start Again,” is a remarkable piece. It opens with a fugue and closes with a technically impressive musical conversation, or really more of a shared monologue, between the saxes. This is one of the places where Gerard’s music takes on that mosaic quality — revealing music to be a series of intercommunicating sounds that form a whole only by “talking” to one another. With its formally impressive structure that somehow yields a playful sound, the piece is one of the Broken Reed’s best.

They say great texts play with one another and the same holds true for music. The humor in some of BRSQ's more serious pieces highlight their earnestness and this lively weight renders them achingly alive.

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