Uri Caine/PRISM Quartet

The Book of Days
XAS Records 106

A brief, engaging bagatelle from the PRISM Quartet, an America all-saxophone chamber ensemble, which as part of its commitment to New music commissions compositions by noted musicians. This time it’s pianist Uri Caine, who is known for his Jazz improvising and unique recasting of archetypal works of so-called classical music. The Book of Days is nothing like that however. Instead it consists of seven compositions reflecting the moods of each day of the week. Entertaining, the highly rhythmic compositions are mostly boisterous, but reflective at points. And they’re played with note-perfect animations by this variant of the PRISM 4 – soprano saxophonist Zachary Shemon, alto saxophonist, Robert Young, tenor saxophonist Matthew Levy and baritone saxophonist Taimur Sullivan – with the composer on piano.

Also as familiar with different idioms as Caine, the four saxophonists finesse all the compositions’ challenges. For instance the atmospheric “Tuesday dawn” is aside of post-serialism, with echoing tinkling from the keyboard and the expressive saxophone voices taking on clarinet, oboe and bassoon emulations depending on the pitches. The jumping “Wednesday afternoon” in contrast contains strands of pastoral baroque stylings, moving from individual reed emphasis – though not solos – to studied criss-crossing patterns from all four, as Caine’s comps behind them from the top of the scale to a darkened coda. The introductory “Sunday 11” is a quasi-spiritual, featuring an alto saxophone lead as the sermonizing preacher and the other reeds as members of a responsive congregation. Delicate puffing confirms the ethereal as hand-clapping rhythms underline reed melding. Reminiscent of Duke Ellington’s Jungle Band-created tunes of the 1920s, the concluding “Saturday midnight” sounds as if it wants to connect with Stride or Ragtime elaborations during some of the exposition. Containing group upwards glissandi that almost demand dance steps, each of the saxophonists is still heard clearly within the interaction.

No ponderous opus, the mostly speedy and highly rhythmic sequences of The Book of Days can serve as a reminder of or introduction to either Caine’s or PRISM’s interpretive talents. Perhaps next time however the five will involve themselves in lengthier and more complex works.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Sunday 11 am 2. Monday 8 am 3. Tuesday dawn 4. Wednesday afternoon 5. Thursday 3 am 6. Friday 5 pm 7. Saturday midnight

Personnel: Zachary Shemon (soprano saxophone); Robert Young (alto saxophone); Matthew Levy (tenor saxophone); Taimur Sullivan (baritone saxophone) and Uri Caine (piano)