The Painted Bride hosted a celebration of the saxophone Tuesday night. The PRISM Quartet welcomed two of the most celebrated performers in modern jazz for a show blurring the lines between jazz and classical music. In this latest installment in the Heritage/Evolution series, PRISM's season finale added Chris Potter and Ravi Coltrane to the mix.
The show opened with two pieces by PRISM founding member and tenor player Matthew Levy. The pastoral "Found," written in honor of the composer's second wedding anniversary that night, began with Coltrane playing solo. PRISM entered with gentle pules and choral swells. Their lush harmonies provided an evocative, impressionistic palette for Coltrane (tenor) and Potter (soprano).
Originally written in 1998 for a project with jazz drummer John Riley, "Real Standard Time, Planet X" was presented in a new arrangement. The intent of the piece, Levy explained, was to imagine a meeting between Arnold Schoenberg and George Clinton, a melding of serial music and funk. Baritone player Taimur Sullivan provided the latter, laying down a groove to anchor the piece's snarled polyphony, spurring knotty soloing from the guest artists.
Potter and Coltrane then left the stage for "Your Gentle Heart," a tender lament written by former PRISM member (and longtime Rolling Stones sideman) Tim Ries in memory of a friend's daughter killed in a car accident.
The centerpiece of each of the Heritage/Evolution performances has been the premiere of new compositions written for the ensemble by their jazz-world guests. Despite being the son of a sax legend, Coltrane instead invoked his mother, pianist Alice, in the harmonies of his contribution to the set, "Tones for M." Like Levy's "Found," the piece reveled in the density and richness possible in the massed woodwinds. Whatever its inspiration, Coltrane's piece ultimately proved a spotlight for the instrument, leaning heavily toward the jazz end of the scale and culminating in a thrilling tenor duel between the composer and Potter.
Potter has experimented in his own work with more complex orchestrations, as in the cinematic electro-acoustic sound of his latest CD, Imaginary Cities.
His contribution was the evening's highlight, a complex piece titled "Improvisations" that arranged and harmonized a series of his own improvisations, recorded in a dressing room in Osaka, Japan. In a post-show discussion, Potter explained that the piece realized a long-held desire to flesh out his improvisations with the voicings and harmonies he hears in his head while playing.
Immediately recognizable as Potter's distinctive voice, the five movements of "Improvisations" - which actually contained no improvisation in their final form - surrounded labyrinthine melodic lines with countermelodies and layered orchestrations, or passed molten flurries from one quartet member to another, expanding the range of Potter's soloistic imagination.