4th World Reviews

The Fourth World Quartet, 1975 (Cuneiform)


Amazing early work from the Fourth World Quartet – an obscure new music ensemble from early 70s Michigan – but one whose members would go on to form Mission Of Burma and Destroy All Monsters! Here, the sound is completely different than those
later groups – a mix of compositional structure and free improvisation – served up by Roger Miller on piano, Benjamin Miller on guitar and alto, Laurence Miller on bass clarinet, and Jack Waterston on alto – a reed-heavy lineup who make some wonderful soundshapes next to Roger's more dynamic piano! Some moments echo some of Miller's later, post-Burma work – but the sound here is also very much its own – very hard to peg, with titles that include "Glanmane", "Alone In Allendale", "The Transformation
Of Oz", "Ambrosia Triangle", "Bubble On A Stem", and "Winter's Dream".


This CD documents the band formed by the Miller brothers, Benjamin (guitar and alto sax), Laurence (bass clarinet), and Roger (piano, cornet, percussion), with Jack Waterstone (alto sax), a union that existed long enough for two performances followed by

this recording, made in the band room of Grand Valley College in Grand Valley, MI in the titular year. Of the group’s members, it’s Roger who maintains the highest profile, directly due to his role in Mission of Burma, though it needs to be pointed out that 1975’s relationship to rock music is basically nada. Old enough to have first-hand experience with rock’s late ’60s breakthroughs (and
in close proximity to burgeoning Detroit), the Miller brothers lost interest in the genre as it took a creative nosedive in the
years before punk’s upheaval.

Rather than rocking out, the focus is on experimentation, incorporating elements of avant-jazz (the influence of Anthony Braxton and Cecil Taylor is audible) and Contemporary Classical/ New Music (curious minds enlivened by the possibilities of Stockhausen; notably, all four members are credited as composers) with free improvisation part of the scheme. Similar to the belatedly released work of Sproton Layer (the Millers’ late ’60s-early ’70s psych-rock band), it’s striking how legitimately worthwhile (as opposed to just retrospectively interesting) The Fourth World Quartet’s music is, and especially as it emerged from such a tight time-frame.

Though I should add that the Millers and Waterstone were all attending Thomas Jefferson College in Allendale, MI at the time of these recordings (composition teacher, Denman Maroney), so the level of quality is the byproduct of diligence in the desire for
new possibilities. 45 years later, The Fourth World Quartet remains at the forefront.


The Fourth World Quartet 1975 Cuneiform CD/DL

The best known member of The Fourth World Quartet is Roger Miller, and he is best known as singer and guitarist in Mission Of Burma, a thoughtfully pummeling post-punk band from Boston whose post-millennial reformation lasted much longer than their early 1980s heyday. Keen fans may be aware he has a lengthy CV outside that group, stretching back a good decade before MOB’s inception. Sproton Layer, a quartet from Ann Arbor featuring a teenage Miller and brothers Ben and Larry (both future members of Detroit’s Destroy All Monsters with Ron Asheton), played bluesy psych à la Cream, with flashes of improvisation reflecting their interest in the avant garde. They dissolved in 1973, but the siblings regrouped as The Fourth World Quartet in early 1975. Completed by alto saxophonist Jack Waterstone, the ensemble existed for mere weeks, recording this 50 minutes of music in a Michigan college without permission.

Insofar as 1975 approaches jazz with an audible rock grounding, it has found a suitable home 46 years later on the Cuneiform label (which has released several albums by Birdsongs Of The Mesozoic, another Roger Miller project). The set-up owes more to jazz than rock, however, with Ben contributing a second alto sax, Laurence bass clarinet and Roger piano. A take on The Art Ensemble Of Chicago’s “Tnoona” underlines this, though The Fourth World Quartet’s poised, stoic reading stands out on this release, which overall tends towards raucous maximalism. Waterstone’s two compositions, “Journey To Bubbleland” and “Ambrosia Triangle”, are the proverbial exceptions which prove the rule, their initial nods to solemnity overwhelmed by waves of free-form brashness.

Roger, by all accounts, was the least jazz-informed of the quartet, and his piano playing, such as on “The Transformation Of Oz”, often sounds more of a piece with classical music’s postwar rule breakers. Notwithstanding their mayfly-like lifespan, The Fourth World Quartet went about their business seriously, but could still be playful to the point of cartoonishness. Indeed, a lightbulb moment came while listening to “Winter’s Dream” and realizing what it reminded me of – the theme from The Simpsons, composed by Danny Elfman 14 years later.

Noel Gardner


Translated to English; The Fourth World Quartet: four rockers on a trip to free jazz 2. 8. 2021 Jan Hocek

The album documents a short but intense and relentlessly disarming stop for young punks in the preserve of free jazz and sound experimentation. There were once three brothers. Growing up in Michigan, they heard the MC5 strike live in the "summer of love" and after this initial experience, they formed their first rock band - Sproton Layer. The second truly initiating experience for them was Stockhausen's night visit to the Department of New Music at the University of Michigan. And so Benjamin Miller (electric guitar, alto saxophone), Roger Miller (piano, percussion) and Laurence Miller (bass clarinet) together with alto saxophonist Jack Waterstone founded a university quartet in 1975 to attempt a fusion of free jazz, free improvisation and contemporary serious music in which they felt the freest musical expression. In addition to their own compositions, they were not afraid to grasp, for example, the composition Tnoona by the Art Ensemble of Chicago or to adapt the main theme from Stravinsky's burlesque Lišák. In a few months, they had a repertoire together.

Unfortunately, the band existed for a short time and played only two concerts, but the creative boundaries were opened and each of the actors could go for their own future. In 1977, with the arrival of punk, Laurence and Benjamin returned to rock and joined the Detroit band Destroy All Monsters, which included Ron Ashton (ex-Stooges) and Michael Davis (ex-MC5). In 1979, Roger formed the indie-rock band Mission Of Burma in Boston. And so on…

The quartet's only album, released on CD for the first time on June 25 this year after more than forty-five years, featured eleven songs. A fresh, honestly open search for the most expressive musical expression makes this recording a delicacy not only for fans of wood free jazz. Of course, there is an unscrupulous rage full of anger, tearing the sound mass into red-hot clutter, as in Pompeii, for example (the longest composition of the album - 8:29, by the way), but we always find something extra that makes the ruthless freejazz expression special. For example, thanks to the guitar, which vehemently condenses some songs, there is a fresh wind of psychedelic rock and noise (most successful in Winter's Dream). Thanks mainly to the piano, minimalism (The Transformation of Oz) also permeates here, and in some places piano strings (Journey to Bubbleland, Bubble on a Stem) are also strumming. Wind instruments can also play in unison, creating shards of colored timbre (Alone in Allendale) or even an intoxicating mixture of intense ascent and meditative immersion (Tnoona). Players are no strangers or loose rates, accelerating from the marching rhythm to the run (Renard the Fox). The quartet also works in an excellent way with silence and a kind of waves, saturated with free jazz, and rather approaches of contemporary composition (Ambrosia Triangle).

Music that recharges and rejuvenates!


August 2021 / 4 Stars Highly Recommended

Avant-Prog 4 Stars October 2021

Exposé Online November 27th 2021 

by Jon Davis
, Published 2021-11-27 

JazzMania / Belgium January 27th 2022

Translated to English; It's a beautiful story: that of the three Miller brothers who grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, whose father, an ichthyologist and musicophile, led them to love music by rocking them with Saint-Saëns and Dvorak. As teenagers, they each studied an instrument then formed a cover band with a psychedelic tendency, to then found a real rock band which mutated into a quartet including an extra-family member. The Fourth World Quartet fizzled, barely a year and a half of existence and two concerts.

This recording, captured live in the spring of 1975 at Thomas Jefferson College, has, above all, witness value. It reflects a bygone era when improbable mixtures took place without taking into account a balance sheet of losses and profits. There are elements of progressive rock in this music, inclinations of free jazz, classical breakaways and a magnificent nod to Stravinsky at the end of the disc. The wind instruments have the best part but the piano is omnipresent and, to a lesser extent, a guitar which electrifies, by sharpening them, certain pieces. Behind their apparent cacophony, several compositions turn out to be veritable treasures of writing, a deeply original writing, as evidenced by the fragments of scores appearing on the inside sleeve. What we remember from this adventure is that it led to others. Laurence and Benjamin formed Destroy All Monsters, Ann Arbor's first proto-punk band featuring members of The Stooges and MC5. For his part, Roger moved to Boston where he became a piano tuner and where he formed the enigmatic group Mission of Burma. In the end, this disc turns out to be a fine page in a musical anthology from the seventies.

                        ITALIAN REVIEW / January 2022


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