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Jazz Reviews : Quartet Music At Unitarian Church

May 12, 1987|DON HECKMAN

No one can ever accuse Quartet Music of lacking creative determination. Appearing at the Unitarian Church in Santa Monica on Saturday night, the determinedly esoteric chamber ensemble made it clear that, after seven years of existence, it continues to value improvisational interaction above all.

Unfortunately, like many groups that continue to explore some of the free jazz improvisational techniques pioneered in the '60s, Quartet Music's performance often placed too much focus on free-flowing, unstructured interaction between the players, at the cost of a connection with the audience.

By electing to provide few familiar musical reference points (other than an occasional rhythm ostinato or melodic drone), Quartet Music too often created an environment encouraging the listener's response of wandering off into the same kind of inner focus that was motivating the musicians, thereby weakening the crucial link between audience and performer.

On the few occasions in which the group's music reached out, Quartet Music's potential became reality. Bassist Eric von Essen's "Sandy's Sunday Dance," despite its reliance on a repetitive base line, built to a solid climax, with stunning, clustered chordal guitar soloing from Nels Cline.

An untitled feature piece for violinist Jeff Gauthier overflowed with rich, Ellington-esque harmonies, and Von Essen's piano performance on "Tune for Bill Evans" was as celebratory as it was energetic.

In their best moments, the players made the kind of imaginative chamber music that can result only from an ensemble that places few restrictions on either style or substance. But too many other moments suggested that it may be time for them to begin to balance their unquestioned creativity with a somewhat larger portion of communication.

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