FIVE is a three-movement composition for saxophone quartet and percussion. The origins for this piece came from two sources – my long-time plan to write a sax quartet as a complement to my other saxophone solo pieces and my interest in exploring the extraordinary sounds and techniques of both the drum kit and the quints – a set of tenor drums normally only used in marching bands and line-drum ensembles. The piece is about exuberant and powerful playing exploiting the dexterity and power of four saxophones with the drum kit and vibraphone. The three movements are entitled: Frantic, Languid, Out-of-Line. I am grateful to Chris Ozley, a percussionist and graduate composition student at UT Austin for his assistance with setup and notation for the quints.
Frantic: The first movement couples the power of a large drum kit – snare, “kick”, four tom toms, hi-hat, cowbell and three cymbals with relentless jazz-ensemble influenced sax quartet writing. Numerous meter changes and sudden shifts in dynamics result in tireless, driving and very tightly coupled ensemble playing.
Languid: The second movement is an extreme contrast to the first: here the percussionist shifts to the smooth, often dreamy sounds of vibraphone. The vibes have a soloistic role here that is closest to jazz improvisation in style and approach. In contrast to the low saxophone registers of the first movement, the central point of the entire piece occurs in late in this movement in the highest sax ranges engaging harmonics and altissimo techniques.
Out-of-Line: The title is a reference to line drumming. But here, the quints are extracted from the marching band (and spiffy uniforms) and integrated with the drum kit. To get a huskier sound, the quartet is adjusted downward closer to big band style – alto sax, two tenor sax’s and baritone sax. The arpeggios in the saxophones are a kind of celebration (and parody to some extent) of marching band music that is finally exposed in full at the very end.