When the term "third stream" was coined in the later '50s, the convergence of modern classical and modern jazz was something of a novelty. (Though of course Duke Ellington was for years doing wonderful music that sometimes brought classical elements into his composing palette. And then there was Charles Mingus, too, in full-flower.) While the term fell out of use and the somewhat self-conscious movement that the term denoted disappeared as a unified entity, the melding of classical and jazz elements has far from disappeared. Their confluence is no longer considered exceptional, since the synthesis occurs across the stratum of possibilities these days. You can find all kinds of compositional elements in the jazz world that might not have been common 50 years ago. Similarly, improvising within new music realms flourishes, and on the classical side an inclusion of jazz or improvised elements is not uncommon. Mention must be made of the AACM artists and their important contributions from that time forwards. But of course there have been many others as well.
A group that has been delving into conjoined utterances for 30 years, the PRISM Quartet of saxophones has been one of the more consistently interesting of the groups who have created dual-style repertoire and encouraged others to follow that muse via their successful example.
Their latest, Heritage/Evolution, Volume 1 (Innova 906 2-CDs), gives us the staple quartet of McAllister, Shemon, Levy and Sullivan, plus the addition of six saxophonist-composers who contribute both their compositions and their distinctive solo abilities.
The results give us a great deal of new music and lively improvising by PRISM and their guests Rudresh Mahanthappa, Miguel Zenon, Tim Ries, Steve Lehman, Greg Osby and Dave Liebman. Ries and Zenon both join the quartet for several compositions as do Osby and Liebman; otherwise the S.O.P. is the quartet and a single guest performer-composer.
The two disks comprise a body of new music (plus a nice Liebman arrangement of Coltrane's "Dear Lord") that effectively hammers out a language (or I should say continues to do so, since PRISM has been addressing this for some time) which has modernist leanings both on the jazz and avant classical sides. The saxophone instrumentation and the considerable improvisatory skills of the players and their jazz backgrounds more or less guarantee that the jazz side of the coin is strongly present. Yet the compositions bring in the other elements on the classical side in greater or lesser degrees, and always with the sort of seamless veneer that comes out of a continued immersion in both worlds, either from close listening, from performance, or of course both.
Unlike some of early Third Stream works, there is no feeling that "now we emphasize the jazz side, now classical." There is a much more thorough interpenetration that comes out of so many years where there has been both a conscious coexistence and a productive mutual assimilation.
I will not run down the specifics of each composition here because probably each is better heard than spoken of at length--and I do not have the space and time at the moment for a description of so many worthy works. Suffice to say that this music convinces, rings true, conjoins the various elements so well that I strongly recommend the set to anyone who finds a serious foray into dualistic stylizations of interest. Or for that matter, anyone who is open to new music.