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The Fourth World Quartet - 1975 (Cuneiform)

10 August 2021

The music of Ann Arbor’s Fourth World Quartet lasted less than a year (the titular 1975) and all of two gigs. So what makes this document of fully-realized demos so important? It’s partially the music itself, of course, which is an ingenious blend of avant jazz and classical music performed in the main by three to four horns, piano and electric guitar. But it’s also the personnel.

On piano and cornet: Roger C. Miller, who would go on to form influential artists Mission of Burma, Birdsongs of the Mesozoic, No Man and the Trinary System. On saxophone and guitar: Roger’s brother Benjamin Miller, later of Detroit supergroup Destroy All Monsters, experimental noise act Empool, the Grammy-nominated Third Border, and many more. On bass clarinet: Benjamin’s twin brother Laurence Miller, who founded Empool, also played in Destroy All Monsters, and formed the avant theater group Larnyx Zillion’s Novelty Shop. (The Miller brothers also made a record in the early nineties as M3.) On saxophone, Jack Waterstone, who stayed in Detroit and formed the Waterstone Duo. Each member contributed compositions, with Laurence also arranging the Art Ensemble of Chicago’s “Tnoona” and Roger Igor Stravinsky’s “Renard the Fox” for the group.

Indeed, those two covers are good signposts for what’s going on here, as Roger moves from luminous chord work to free jazz terror, over which Waterstone and the twins wrestle all sorts of horn-honking havoc into structures that are often as beautiful as they are cacophonous. While it would be somewhat disingenuous to claim to hear direct lines from the Quartet to the musicians’ other projects (or backward to the Millers’ teenage psych band Sproton Layer, for that matter), there’s certainly the same sense of adventure here, the same deliberate ignorance of stylistic borders and the same willingness to take previously established musical forms and bend them to their own purposes. That makes 1975 a must for fans of its creators, as well as anyone with adventurous ears and the urge to explore.