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While still unusual, saxophone quartets are hardly without precedent, thanks to jazz-oriented bands like ROVA and the World Saxophone Quartet. Battle Trance, however, is something different. Outside of being an all-tenor ensemble (as opposed to the variety of delineations used by other sax acts), the band concentrates on composition rather than improvisation, devoting themselves to the work of leader Travis LaPlante. Mining a rich vein somewhere between avant-garde jazz and minimalist classical music, LaPlante creates pieces full of vivid textures and hidden details, taking advantage of the instruments’ ability to drone out as much as bring melodies to life.
Divided into three sections, Green of Winter – the third part of a trilogy – utilizes all of this in the service of tunes that bewilder and beguile. The nearly twenty-four-minute “Part I” revolves around the vibration of multiple saxes playing singular notes all at once, providing a whirring, almost soothing hum that underlies the entire piece, even when the horns move into straight melodies. “Part II” takes the opposite tack, beginning with an accessible, harmonized melody, before contrasting a repetitive riff mantra with double-tracked drone notes and drifting back into increasingly quiet and sedate melody lines. “Part III” kicks off with the middle ground, weaving different melodic repetitions into a tapestry that swirls like a flock of birds in the sky, eventually becoming a choir of voices fed through the horns and ascending into the ether.
Though in many ways Battle Trance evokes the approach of a string quartet, the band makes good use of their instrument’s unique qualities, giving the music an otherworldly sound all its own. Driven by LaPlante’s distinctive melodic style, BT turns Green of Winter into a mesmerizing tour de force of sound, texture and intense musicality.
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