Group efforts

By JON GARELICK  |  April 7, 2009

In Fly, with bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard, Turner is at his best. In his complex, multi-part pieces (he wrote four of the album's nine tracks), the distinction between written melody and spontaneous outpouring is blurred; Turner's saxophone lines always sound invented on the spot, but informed with a sure compositional logic. The a cappella intro to his "Ananda Nanda" is unrelated to the theme that follows, but it begins in a high soprano range, works through various scalar patterns, alternating upper and lower registers, a complete composition in itself. Coltrane-style tenorists swoop into the altissimo register for exclamatory effects, but Turner can float up and stay there, spinning line after line.

"Most saxophone teachers will tell you about the overtone series," he says, explaining how those notes — higher than the horn's natural range — are produced. "But the extent that you want to do it is on you." He credits his first teacher, Leo Potts, at Long Beach State and then Joe Viola at Berklee for helping him with overtones. In the meantime, he studied the playing of people like Marsh, Desmond, Konitz, Giuffre, Joe Lovano, and George Garzone.

In part it's the rigorousness of Turner's approach, and his methodology, that's influenced his peers. But it's also the sheer beauty of his sound and conception. In some of Sky & Country's more tumultuous tunes (check his long, serene lines against the drum 'n' bass throb and patter of Ballard and Grenadier on the opening of "Super Sister"), he's like a Lester Young for the digital age. On tunes by Ballard and Grenadier, he plays some soprano sax at their request, but he doesn't see himself using it on his own tunes. "It's not that I don't like it, it's just that I don't hear it on everything. And otherwise, I'd rather deal with another instrument." In the future, he sees himself playing more clarinet. Another reed instrument Lester Young excelled at.

The Tiptons Sax Quartet, who play a bill with the Revolutionary Snake Ensemble at the Dante Club in Somerville next Thursday, have been around in one form or another for 20 years — first as the Billy Tipton Memorial Saxophone Quartet, an all-female band named for the big-band musician "revealed post-mortem to have been a woman living as a man for 50 years." These days, the sexual politics of the band are just as out, but they've added male drummer Chris Stromquist. What's likely to hit you immediately on their latest, Laws of Motion (Zipa!/Spoot Music), are the hard grooves, the elegant arrangements, and the variety of styles.

Those grooves will be familiar to fans of the World Saxophone Quartet, who popularized the format in the early '80s. On opener "Fallout," baritone Tina Richerson lays down the funk ostinato with Stromquist, with harmonized horns playing a unison line on top before splitting off for solos that include an especially exuberant one from Richerson. But the band quickly move into international styles and the occasional vocal. Amy Denio's "Raisa," on which she sings wordlessly, progresses from heavy-footed European country waltz to fast-skipping Algerian rai; her "Marjan," meanwhile, is a 9/8 Balkan dance tune. "Sind,' " which was inspired by the Italian female vocal group Faraualla, opens with group vocals of fast nonsense syllables and ramps up with a scrambled oom-pah dance rhythm and staccato horn lines. Denio takes a virtuosic lead vocal on Jessica Lurie's "The Shop of Wild Dreams," a tune that connects the ensemble to pop with a mix of oneiric rhapsodizing and jump-band scat. The soloing all around on Laws of Motion (tenor-sax Sue Orfield is the fourth horn) is brash and authoritative.

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