Imagine landing in Oaxaca, where a rhapsodic alto saxophonist and sultry pianist serenade you with an expansive, loosely knit, multi-thematic waltz. You’ve just heard Arrullo Caprichoso by the prolific Mexican saxophonist/composer Arodi Martinéz Serrano, and the piece immediately takes effect, as if you’ve imbibed a musical margarita. Now that you’re blessed out, saxophone virtuoso Scott Litroff and pianist Matthieu Cognet lower the temperature with Tunisian composer Christian Lauba’s gorgeous Just a Song. At first the music reminds you of a loping Charles Mingus ballad, or, more accurately, Mingus’ “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” as recomposed by Olivier Messiaen. Or perhaps Duke Ellington peering through Dutilleux’s kaleidoscope?
I don’t hear anything particularly South Korean in Elliott Bark’s Three Places in South Korea. Instead, I hear engaging, accessible, and brilliantly performed character pieces. The two sections of Perry Goldstein’s Heaven are respectively based on a Spiritual and a prison song. I’m impressed by how these two fastidious classical artists idiomatically convey the music’s blues-based characteristics, without a trace of stiffness.
The banal melodies throughout Lan-In Winnie Yang’s Garden By the Stream wear thin over the work’s rambling 12-minute duration, notwithstanding Litroff and Cognet’s impassioned performance. The musicians toss off the concluding Crazy Rag (composed by Christian Lauba under the pseudonym Jean Matitia) with dazzling finesse and nonchalance. In sum, an intelligently curated, impeccably executed, and largely appealing program that ought to attract more than just classical saxophone fans. I’ve already booked front row seats for whatever musical adventures Litroff and Cognet plan next.