In the liner notes to 12 Preludes and Fugues, Michel Pagán writes about how, as a jazz musician, he’s always had a fascination with the saxophone, and, as a composer, with counterpoint. So on a whim, he wrote a fugue for four voices, and he immediately heard it for saxophones. Within a few days, he’d written a few more fugues and then decided to write a prelude for each one. While some of the 24 tracks here contain jazz improvisation, others are written in jazz style without improvisation, and some are steeped in third stream and neoclassical. The Colorado Saxophone Quartet (founded by Pete Lewis in 1997 and including Clare Church, Tom Meyer, Andrew Stonerock and Kurtis Adams) does an extraordinary job of interpreting the pieces, which were recorded in CU-Boulder’s Grusin Music Hall. The saxophonists have total control over their horns, both in tone and articulation, and it’s clear why Pagán chose the quartet to interpret his sublime works. Reviewed by Jon Solomon, Denver Westword (April 26, 2011)
Michael Pagán has created in his 12 Preludes and Fugues, the most remarkable compositions for saxophone quartet I’ve ever heard. At over seventy-minutes of music, it is certainly one of the largest-scale works for such a group, but dimension does not begin to define why this work is so special. Pagán has distilled over thirty years of jazz performance as soloist, ensemble member, and leader, skills in classical composition acquired at Kent State and Northwestern University, and experience in a wide variety of musical styles into a uniquely eclectic set of 24 compositions. Influences he has absorbed and made his own include baroque counterpoint, Shostakovich’s work in the same form, the music of Bartok, Hindemith, and Granados, preludes by Debussy and Chopin, and the Fourth Symphony of Brahms, as well as the dizzying assortment – a Whitman’s Sampler of musical treats – and Pagán clearly revels in the contrasts the juxtapositions of these many styles create. The miracle is that it all coalesces into such a coherent whole. In fact, while the composer has said that he welcomes performers to pick and choose sections of the work that suit their abilities and interests, the work makes its greatest effect when heard in all its marvelous diversity. The first half is a stylistic journey from neo-baroque to contrapuntal be-bop, with stops for a jazz waltz, a harmonically challenging fugue, a fast swing prelude with improvisations, and boss nova. The second half is a compelling passage from dark to light; from the somber organ-like prelude with its densely argued fugue, to the upbeat popish final prelude and summative high-energy fugue with intermixed elements of jazz and classical. In between are a fugue that cunningly thumbs its nose at contrapuntal rules, an improvisation “in classical style,” a study in third stream composition, and a fugue based on a tone-row. It is virtuoso fun, amazingly technical, and at times extremely moving: a tour de force.
Pagán could not have asked for better advocates for the work than he found in the Colorado Saxophone Quartet. They have worked together before when the composer directed his Boulder, Colorado-based big band, and they are thoroughly familiar with his work. It was, as well, their sound that Pagán imagined when he wrote his first fugue. The CSQ’s repertoire is as eclectic as Pagáns’ work, with an emphasis on new music from both sides of the classical/jazz divide. Virtuosic, beautifully blended, rich, slightly reedy, and assertive in tone, but capable of great refinement, the highly flexible quartet is a perfect match for this assignment. And as impressive as the five players are collectively (Adam Stonerock, now the quartet’s alto player, substituted for Kurtis Adams in about half of the the work), they are equally adept as soloists, and the improvisation that appears in several of the sections is invariably true to the compositional style and highly creative in its own right. Michael Pagán and I discuss a bit in the preceding interview the proper label to attach to this work. It really defies definition. Classical listeners curious about the possibilities offered by such cross-fertilization of genres will want to hear this CD. Saxophone aficionados should not hesitate to obtain the disc. Jazz lovers are already reading rave reviews in their publications. There is nothing quite like this, even in Pagán’s output, though he points to some interesting contrapuntal antecedents in his big band CD, Pag’s Groove, in the worlds he composed and arranged for a piano and vibraphone disc, Duo, and in his recent album of jazz trio works, Three for the Ages. These are more traditional jazz releases, but I suspect that listeners captivated by 12 Preludes and Fugues will, as I did, find these a fascinating listen as well.
Reviewed by, Ronald E. Grames, Fanfare.
12 Preludes and Fugues:
” I have never heard such magnificent music composed for a saxophone quartet…This Colorado Saxophone Quartet is sensational. Their clarity for purpose is stunning…a magnificent new recording.” David J. Gibson, Editor Saxophone Journal.
“Pagán’s mastery of contrapuntal sophistication is on full display here…by far, the most swinging chamber music I’ve ever heard.” Wayne E. Goines, Jazz Ambassador Magazine.
“Michael Pagán has created something very rare here: a true fusion of classical and jazz idioms…the results are fantastic…highly recommended to all classical and jazz collections.” Rick Anderson, CDhotlist.btol.com.
Three for the Ages:
“This is as masterful a piano trio effort as one can hear, anywhere, covering thoughtful ballads, mid-tempo swing, and the gorgeous original title track…Pagán delivers with clarity, reverence for melody, harmonic choices that reflect a broad emotional palette, and luxurious spaces that allow each note to breathe fully. Bassist Bowman is a perfect foil and artful soloist throughout, drummer Ray DeMarchi is a shimmering timekeeper.” Andrea Canter, Jazzpolice.com.
“Who knew he could make a big band sound so marvelous?…Pag’s Groove is a stellar album from start to finish…” Jack Bowers, Cadence Magazine.
Nobody Else But Me:
“If Bach has played jazz, it might have sounded like this.” Brad Weismann, Colorado Daily.