PRISM QUAR­TET AND MU­SIC FROM CHINA

Pasatiempo - - Pasa Tempos - — James M. Keller

An­tiphony (In­nova) — Apart from the fact that both were founded 25 years ago, you wouldn’t think that the Prism Quar­tet (a sax­o­phone quar­tet) and Mu­sic From China (a New York-based en­sem­ble of tra­di­tional Chi­nese in­stru­ments) would have much com­mon ground. Their col­lab­o­ra­tive CD, An­tiphony, proves oth­er­wise. The groups teamed up to com­mis­sion works from five Chi­nese or Chi­nese-Amer­i­can com­posers, and the re­sults are stun­ning. If men­tion of a sax­o­phone quar­tet evokes mem­o­ries of cheesy four­somes with ca­reen­ing vi­bratos, you haven’t been keep­ing up with Prism, whose purely mod­u­lated tones are so metic­u­lously blended that they can seem com­puter gen­er­ated, as in the tonal shad­ings in “Yuan for Sax­o­phone Quar­tet,” by the emerg­ing no­table Lei Liang. Works by Wang Guowei and Tan Dun (an early piece of his from 1984) build mostly on Chi­nese folk style, while a fas­ci­nat­ing and very smart suite by Ming-Hsiu Yen, ti­tled “Chi­na­town,” al­ludes to the hy­per­sen­si­tive edge where racist over­tones once in­formed Tin Pan Al­ley’s evo­ca­tions of Chi­nese cul­ture. Ma­jor works come from Chen Yi and Zhou Long, a mar­ried cou­ple who are among the most con­sis­tently ad­mirable com­posers work­ing in the United States to­day. Zhou’s is the beau­ti­ful ti­tle track, and both its forces (erhu, daruan, per­cus­sion, and sax­o­phone quar­tet) and its mu­si­cal ideas ex­em­plify the new re­al­ity of mu­si­cal worlds that used to seem in­fin­itely dis­tant but to­day are merg­ing into a uni­fied fu­ture. It may stake a place as a mas­ter­piece.

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