"Plastic Facts" is the debut album of New Thread Quartet, a NYC-based saxophone quartet hailed as “adventurous, rule-breaking” (NewMusicBox). The album serves as a showcase of modern compositions for saxophone quartet which utilize extended techniques, and includes music by Michael Djupstrom, Marcelo Lazcano, Anthony Gatto, and Richard Carrick.
New Thread Quartet, an “adventurous, rule-breaking” (NewMusicBox) saxophone quartet, releases their debut album “Plastic Facts" highlighting works written for them that explore the intricacies of extended techniques and the unique sound worlds available to this ensemble, underpinned by the quartet’s virtuosic ensemble playing.
Michael Djupstrom’s Test was written in 2001 and is the only piece not written for the quartet on the album, though the quartet is credited with giving this piece its revival. Test opens with a solo melodic line that creates the basis for the development of the piece. This melody came to the composer after seeing the “slow, rocking flight” of a bird in Michigan, which we can also hear in the constant trills throughout the piece. After presenting the opening melody, the rest of the ensemble begins to interrupt with trills and sforzando interjections, leading to moments of tight melodic runs alongside fragments on the opening theme. The middle section is one of stasis, consisting of a melody supported by a steady drone in the bass, while the other two saxophones add harmonic color and countermelodies. The piece ends with the ensemble increasingly playing together, constantly interrupted by trills and descending runs, and with a return to the plaintive opening melody.
Marcelo Lazcano takes a Buddhist phrase, “We are what we think. Everything we are arose from our thoughts,” as the basis for Ser. Fragments of the phrase are whispered by members of the ensemble, punctuated by breath sounds and slap tongues from the saxophones. Stopping and starting, occasionally interjecting, and moving fluidly and without fanfare from idea to idea, the piece mimics our own journeys and wanderings inside our heads.
Plastic Facts (Les Sons Multiples) is inspired by an architectural idea of what the architect Le Corbusier, whose studio Xenakis incidentally worked in for many years, called “plastic facts,” or basic architectural necessities, such as doors, windows and walls. He saw these as constraints to work with, and as a challenge to see both how they could be worked with and how they could be made new. The “plastic fact” of this piece is multiphonics, appearing in almost every moment of the work. At various times, Anthony Gatto uses multiphonics for their harmonic content, their ability to be disruptive, to create screaming ensemble chords, or as an unsteady support to a melodic line. Being presented in such varied contexts, the “fact” of multiphonics never appears the same way twice, continually inventing new facts of how multiphonics can be used toward expressive ends.
Dedicated to George Lewis, Richard Carrick’s Harmonixity is based on two acoustical phenomena: the natural harmonic overtone of each saxophone, and how a single line can reverberate to create an impression of multiple voices. The piece begins with sustained notes, exploring the overtones and coloration available to each saxophone. Carrick then presents a melodic rendering of this reverberation through a fast, gently pulsating motif that evolves into a texture of its own. These two textures feed each other throughout the piece, in constant response to each other while keeping their distinct identities.
New Thread Quartet shines throughout with their virtuosic ensemble playing and deft ability to make extended techniques purely expressive in this album, reaping the dividends paid through their close collaboration with each composer.
New Thread Quartet was formed with the mission to develop and perform impactful new music for the saxophone, and to provide high level ensemble playing to feature today’s compositional voices. In 5 seasons, the quartet has commissioned and premiered over 20 new works by composers such as Richard Carrick, Ben Hjertmann, Scott Wollschleger, and Kathryn Salfelder, with recent commissions from Max Grafe and Taylor Brook as part of its annual Explorations concert series. Based in New York City, NTQ has performed at Carnegie Hall, Roulette, Dance Theatre of Harlem, the Bang on a Can Summer Festival Benefit, Monadnock Music, and the World Saxophone Congress in St. Andrews, Scotland, and has performed or recorded more than 30 important works for saxophone quartet including Kati Agócs’ Hymn on New England Conservatory’s Composer Series at Jordan Hall, a revival of Michael Djupstrom’s 2001 work Test at Arizona State University’s Katzin Concert Hall, and the premiere recording of Elliott Sharp’s seminal work Approaching the Arches of Corti for 4 soprano saxophones, now available on New World Records.
NTQ has a track record of working closely with composers in a workshop environment during the formation of new works and encourages composer attendance at rehearsals. The quartet strives for multiple performances of newly commissioned works in attempt to bring new music to different audiences as often as possible.
NTQ has conducted masterclasses, residencies, and performances for student saxophonists and composers at Peabody Conservatory, Bronx Community College, Aaron Copland School (Queens College), Montclair State University, NYU and NASA Regional and Biennial conferences across the US. NTQ encourages young composers to create new works for saxophones through an open submission policy, conducting reading and feedback sessions throughout the year.
Ensemble members are Geoffrey Landman (soprano saxophone), Kristen McKeon (alto saxophone), Erin Rogers (tenor saxophone) and Zach Herchen (baritone saxophone). NTQ is a presenting partner of Composers Now.
Carrick is a composer, conductor, pianist, and co-founder/artistic director of the new music ensemble Either/Or. His compositions are informed by Csíkszentmihályiʼs flow concept, implications of infinity, the visceral experience of sound, and his personal heritage with roots in France, North Africa and the United Kingdom. His Flow Cycle for Strings on New World Records, described by The Wire UK as "quietly virtuosic and addictive," re-interprets Csíkszentmihályiʼs intricate flow- charts and principles into newly designed compositional approaches. His music has been commissioned by the New York Philharmonic Biennial Festival, the Fromm Foundation, and presented at the ISCM World Music Days and Vienna's Konzerthaus. He has taught composition at Columbia and New York Universities and currently mentors New York Philharmonic Very Young Composers internationally. His article, "The Music of Flow" was published in The New York Times. His music is available on six commercial CDʼs and his scores are available through Project Schott New York.http://www.richardcarrick.com
Bands with multiple musicians all playing the same instrument can be academic and fussy. Obviously, there are exceptions. Battle Trance live up to their name and then some. The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain are ridiculously entertaining. The cuatros of the C4 Trio will give you goosebumps. Likewise, the saxophonists in the New Thread Quartet – soprano player Geoffrey Landman, altoist Kristen McKeon, tenor player Erin Rogers and baritone playe Zach Herchen – have a sense of fun to match their formidable chops.
They love to commission new works and have impeccable taste in their choice of composers. Their debut album, Plastic Facts – streaming at Bandcamp – comprises four diverse, dynamic new compositions. They’re playing the release show for their second and as-yet-unreleased second album, Explorations Vol. 4, Attacca on Sept 12 at 8:30 PM at the Tenri Institute. Cover is $10; $20 will get you admission, plus a copy of the new cd., which features works by James Ilgenfritz, Len Tetta, Jude Thomas, and Amy Beth Kirsten.
The debut album’s first track, Michael Djupstrom‘s Test shifts swiftly from moody ambience to increasingly agitated overlays, close harmonies and bagpipe-like flourishes. Bubbly pageantry quickly gives way to ominous resonance, noirish trills, poltergeist leaps and flickers and sharp-fanged close harmonies. Bernard Herrmann would have been proud to have assembled this deliciously sinister tableau.
Ser – Spanish for “being” – by Marcelo Lazcano begins with fragmentary phrases dispersed among the four musicians, then shifts back and forth between steady, intertwining, busily anticipatory riffs and calmer interludes. There’s a lot of whispering and a surprise ending.
With its slow, doppler-like tectonic shifts, the album’s title cut – by Anthony Gatto – draws more heavily on the group’s massed extended technique – harmonics, duotones, and textural grit – than the other pieces here. And yet, its persistent, warm optimism becomes a fanfare of sorts: John Zorn’s work for brass comes strongly to mind.
The epic final cut is Harmonixity, by Richard Carrick. It’s a series of variations on two contrasting tropes. To open the piece, waves roll in across a long expanse, in succession, nimbly handed off between the group’s individual members. Then fluttery intonation mimics a strobe effect: the collective precision is stunning. Then it’s back to the beach, and then the strobe, and so on. Like the rest of the material here, it’s both playful and keeps the listener guessing what’s going to happen next. No spoilers! Count this among the most enjoyable instrumental albums of the year in any style of music, and good reason to look forward to the next release.
-Delarue, 9.7.19, New York Music Daily
Contemporary classical music doesn’t get enough spotlight here (and I vow to change that). Let’s start with New York-based New Thread Quartet, a saxophone tetraphony playing pieces that are, at times, utterly terrifying and powerful; at other times contemplative, meandering, or intriguing. Each track is from a different composer, but they all shine equally on this record.
I say give this sax quartet a lot of credit. While the recording is funded IN PART by some arts council money, they are more concerned with bringing new ears into the tent than impressing the givers that be. A modern classical crew with their ears firmly planted in tomorrow, they are actively commissioning new works of an unpredictable and sprightly nature that are eminently listenable even if you aren't a fan of the genre. Sets like this bode well for those who never want to hear Pacalbel's Canon at a wedding ever again. Check it out.
-Chris Spector, 4.15.19, Midwest Record