Tetraptych’s debut: “collective improvisation” at its best

Band: Tetraptych
Album: Tetraptych
Label: Red Piano Records
Released: April 2017
Duration: 60 minutes

Tetraptych is Bert Seager (piano/compositions), Hery Paz (tenor saxophone), Max Salinger-Ridley (upright bass) and Dor Herskovits (drums).

It is life-affirming to hear four musicians so in tune with each other as they pursue, in the words of Bert Seager, “the higher intentions of our musical purpose”. They may be the latest thing in a long line of modern jazz saxophone quartets but they very much forge their own path.

A tetraptych (pronounced “Te-trup-tick”) is “a four-panelled painting where each panel can stand on its own. Seen together, the panorama of panels gives greater meaning to the interaction of the parts.”

Composer and leader Seager uses the term “collective improvisation” to describe the modus operandi of Tetraptych. While the quartet may have dispensed with road maps their unity of purpose and shared joie de vivre ensures that we are all happy to go along for the ride.

Under the Bostonian pianist’s light-touch leadership they take their time in laying out their wares. The music unfolds naturally and organically, never forced. They improvise because they can, and they do so in a way that is both seamless and sensuous. Listen to the sultry piano and sax foreplay of Distances and feel yourself slow-falling into the arms of a seductress!

The album opener, Welcoming The Water, is epic in both style and length. At 13.59 minutes it is the longest of the six tracks. It amply illustrates the cooperative and intuitive ethos which binds the four. The piano/sax conversation is one which invites eavesdropping. And what about Herskovits’ drum solo: every time I hear it I want to leap to my feet and punch the air. If this is improv bring it on!

Last Snow, with its tentative piano opening, coming on and falling away, resolves itself in successive layers of pastoral splendour.

The straight ahead bebop of Blues You Can Use and the Star Eyes-inspired Star Wise shows the boys letting loose and having some fun. The latter, with its introductory prelude, shows the quartet’s attention to detail and eschewing of musical cliches even when dealing in well established formats.

Bert Seager wrote all of the songs on this recording except for the free improvisation “Equanimous Botch”. The band used this one to warm up at the start of the session. Unapologetically exploratory, it affords the listener an opportunity to peek into the engine room and witness, up close, the inner workings of this fabulous self-propelling apparatus. What the output lacks in focus it makes up for in originality. As the fifteenth Century Dutch surrealistic painter Hieronymus Bosch said “Poor is the mind that always uses the inventions of others and invents nothing itself.”

All told this is a quietly confident opus which insinuates itself with lyrical ease into the deeper recesses of your heart. It will surely inspire others to put aside map and compass and rely, instead, on one’s innate sense of being.

Read Steve Elman’s wonderful review of the album at www.artfuse.org.

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