Jason Marshall – Sign the Book (2012)

Jason Marshall – Sign the Book (2012)
Jason Marshall - Sign The Book
Jason Marshall is often compared to Pepper Adams as a titan of the baritone but I think that is far too limiting for what Marshall can do. In his playing you can hear hints of his baritone influences including: Smulyan, Cuber, Bluiett, and Brignola. I don’t mean to suggest that he is some sort of amalgam of these players.  Instead his seems to have taken the best of each player and blended them with his own experience and background to generate his own unique sound. In terms of style he is a clearly a modern bopper or hard swinger depending on how you delineate the two.
P. Mauriat and Jody Jazz could hardly ask for a more perfect musician and performer to display their wares. I’ll admit it; Marshall’s playing single-handedly made me want to play test a P. Mauriat Low-Bb baritone. Before him I’d not even heard of a modern Low-Bb horn being made. After hearing him I knew that one day I’d have to own one, seeing as I rarely play a low-A as it stands.  Marshall’s baritone voice is clear and has a large range, although his improvised lines don’t venture into the lower range too often. As with most baritone players we tend to solo in the mid to upper range. It is this which I feel gives some listeners the idea that some baritone players play like a tenor player.
The other big voice on this album is that of Hammond B3 player Ondřej Pivec. I think we are in for a long career from this musician. He is talented and it shows in a huge way. His awards list includes 10 music awards in 7 years including 2 Czech Grammy’s. By his performance on this album they are well deserved.  His playing echoes the B3 tradition on American jazz throughout the ages. I enjoyed his soulful playing so much I had to hear more, which is not something I review but I can say that Pivec is my current favorite B3 player. Though I can’t name too many other B3 players at the moment.
As you may have noticed I love albums full of original music. It is not to say that I don’t enjoy hearing the standards regurgitated in new and innovative ways but for the most part even the pros don’t reinvent the wheel. Most stay close to the standard on the head then take liberties in the improvised sections. This formula works and is taught in schools from middle-school on up. For me the thrill is hearing modern younger players writing and integrating the music they grew up listening with the jazz they grew to love as musicians. Marshall has done this on nearly all of his tracks. The R&B and funk influences pervade many tracks and add a danceable vibe to the music.
TAKE AWAY: This album didn’t come as a surprise or set the world of saxophone on its ear. No, what it did was present great playing in an accessible format that even an untrained ear can appreciate. This is no small feat considering the fact that traditional jazz has been declining in popular appeal since its heyday.  But that is a topic of for a different day. This album is worth owning at twice the asking price.
Jason Marshall – Baritone Saxophone
Ondřej Pivec – Hammond B3 Organ
Russell Carter – Drums
Paul Bollenback – Bass

Shirantha Beddage – Roots and Branches (2006)

Shirantha Beddage – Roots and Branches (2006)
Shirantha Beddage – Roots and Branches (2006)Few albums make me want to find the player and enroll in his college but this album makes a great case for Beddage’s music department at Humber College (Toronto, Canada). Beddage proves wrong the Mencken quote that “those who can, do; those who can’t, teach”. It is clear that his love and passion for music has given this album its shine.
Beddage composes melodies in a wonderfully straightforward and mastered way. He has something to say and takes his time in developing his thoughts throughout a piece. In such, his compositions average 6 minutes and peak out at a little over 8 minutes. What stands out for me is that this album is all Beddage original compositions. As a baritone saxophone music collector I can say with confidence that this is the first album in my collection of straight ahead jazz that does not have at least one non-original tune on it.
There is at least 2 songs on this album which may one day become a jazz standard in line with “All the things you are”, “My Funny Valentine” and “Autumn in New York”. The first is his piece “Seoul Sister” which features a memorable head section then one of the most lyrical piano solos on the album. Michael Stryker paints an aural picture so vivid you can almost see the notes. The second is “Le Petit Grenouille” which pays a bit of homage to Miles Davis’s “Seven Steps to Heaven” at its outset. This piece came as a huge surprise and a welcome pickup of the pace compared to the tracks before it.  I will admit that my first jazz album, literally a record, was a 2nd hand copy of Miles Davis “’Four’ and More”. I didn’t so much listen as devoured this album.
Beddage’s tone is a fantastic combination of Brignola and Cuber.  By this I mean to say that it has depth and a clearly baritone tone. His tone has a healthy dollop of buzz and a medium serving of baffle. If I didn’t know better I would have to think his piece is a François Louis. Then again it’s is nearly impossible to tell from listening what piece a person, the exception is an Otto Link. Beddage’s tone is the quintessential solo baritonists tone. It’s in your face and not to be mistaken for any other woodwind ever made.
Baritone is not the only horn that Beddage lends his voice to on this album. He overdubbed the tenor sax in some sections and on one track adds a husky presence on soprano. It is certainly not uncommon for me to mention that a bari sax player is playing more than one instrument on an album  but in this case his soprano playing came as great surprise. I am used to Diblasio playing a few tracks on flute or Schroeder on bass clarinet but in Beddage’s hands the soprano fit perfectly in this ensemble. His sop tone was full and not the least bit nasally or shrill.
TAKE AWAY: There is very little not to like on this album. Original compositions, expert playing, brilliant audio engineering, and audible passion make this album one to own.
Michael Stryker – Piano
Jared Schonig – Drums
Ryan Kotler – Bass 
Shirantha Beddage – Baritone, Tenor, Soprano Saxophone

Jonah Parzen-Johnson – Michiana (2012)

Jonah Parzen-Johnson - Michiana

Jonah Parzen-Johnson – Michiana (2012)

I have begun to see a pattern in the Bari tone that I most identify with among the musicians that listen to. The baritone sax tone that I seem most attractive to tends to come from players on vintage low-Bb horns and playing Lebayle mouthpieces. Jonah Parzen-Johnson has this “Labayle” tone and fantastic phrasing, and he needs it for this unaccompanied musical journey. Yes, this is unaccompanied baritone saxophone in it rawest and most exposed. Parzen-Johnson is widely seen as experimental or depending on your musical tastes, Avant-garde. 
Unaccompanied experimental baritone may not be everyone’s cup of tea but Parzen-Johnson brings something unexpected to his compositions. His compositions have all the subtleties and complexities of a one man Broadway play. It is in this light that I recommend that the uninitiated listen to this album. Consider that he is telling a story one track or act at a time. Each of these musical acts refines the theme and conveys a new emotional moment in the play. On his track “You probably don’t’ remember”, he repeats a phrase which includes a sequence with multiphonics which give it the feeling of being pain filled or anguished. 
Unlike Collin Stetson whose unaccompanied Bass saxophone solo albums I have reviewed, Parzen-Johnson doesn’t use multiple horn microphones, throat microphones, and minutes long sung harmonies.  Instead he focuses on telling a story with repetition, tone, and phrasing .I do not mean to suggest that Parzen-Johnson isn’t using advanced techniques. He does use multiphonics, a touch of altissimo, and circular breathing to great effect. The best part of his use of these effects is that they are not distracting or the centerpiece of his performance. They serve to advance the narrative and flesh out the sonic character of the track.
I called this album unaccompanied bari sax but that is not totally true. The final 2 tracks are electronic music. If there is a trace to bari to be heard in “I Turn Left Over Train Tracks III” I had a hard time identifying it. These tracks feature electronic soundscapes. They reminded me of something that would work well on a remake “Blade Runner”.
Now this album isn’t likely to be heard on your local Jazz station unless it’s a college station and it’s late at night. It is colorful and exciting but not very access able to the average jazz listener. Performers like Parzen-Johnson and Collin Stetson have an aural vision that doesn’t easily fit within the more mainstream jazz environment. They bring rawness and at times an emotional nudity that can only be shared in the context of a solo performer and their instrument. No cover-up and no collaboration.
TAKE AWAY: This isn’t necessarily music to get romantic to but it is music that makes you think and feel. If modern experimental story telling interests you then buy this album. If you want a great example of tone and sensitivity then buy this album. If you are looking for the next Adams or Mulligan then save your pennies.

Collective Identity – The Mass (2000)

Collective Identity – The Mass (2000)

What this album is not, is every bit as important as what it is. This album is not is an homage to the great classical composers of bygone eras.  It is not a classically themed recital. What is this album? It is a jazz inspired exercise in modern composition and decidedly modern tonalities. This album features a collection of artists who’s individual skills blend well without the any auditory bravado or one-upsmanship. This album is gritty, urban, and full of passion that bleeds through the tracks even if it hard to stomach at times.

Alex Harding brings his passion and his improvisational style to the small ensemble. Just less than half way through the track “The Mass” Harding takes an improvised solo accompanied only by the passionate whoop from a fellow band member moved by the emotions displayed in Harding’s playing. If you are not familiar with Harding then you’ve been missing a wonderfully unique baritone sound. With his Selmer Mark VI and RIA mouthpiece he has the power to pierce the group but also the body to project the low tones. If this weren’t a modern jazz group I’d be less inclined to appreciate his edgy tone for more traditional quartet music.  
The tenor saxophone can often get over shadowed by its higher pitched bands mates and relegated to supporting roles within ensembles. This is not the case in this group; saxophonist Aaron Stewart makes this classically maligned horn the darling of several pieces. His tone is the perfect match for Harding’s edgier baritone tone and the bridge between the upper horns and the lower horn. I would hesitate to suggest that he is in a support role as in a quartet all voices are important but he really has a subtle shine on this album which makes me want to hear more of him. 
A favorite track of mine on this album is the Wayne Shorter classic “Nefertiti”. The group spun and stretched the piece in a way that I think Shorter would have enjoyed. Particularly the smooth improvised lines of soprano saxophonist Sam Newsome. Newsome’s soprano tone is something to be emulated. It is clear, full, and dark to the point of nearly stuffy. It isn’t stuffy sounding at all but rather blends cleanly into the mix but with just a bit effort cuts like a laser. 
Is there one thing I would change about this album is that I would ask them to rerecord it but with more tracks like “Spirit take my hand”. This track is a Harding original and is a gospel inspired piece. In Harding’s original arrangement, his playing is a mirror of a Baptist minister leading his congregation.  The version of this piece on this album is less spiritual in feeling but still embodies Harding’s vision.

TAKE AWAY: This album is at times hard to listen to but rewards the listener with moments of advanced techniques and unique arrangements. Do I recommend you buy this album? Yes, if you like modern semi-abstract melodies and dissonant tonalities in small ensembles. If you don’t then spend your money on Alex Harding’s other albums.

Line Up:

Baritone Sax: Alex Harding
Soprano Sax: Sam Newsome 
Alto Sax: Jorge Sylvester 
Tenor sax:.Aaron Stewart

Frank Basile – Modern Inventions (2012)

Frank Basile – Modern Invention (2012)

My first impression of this group was that they sound larger than they really are. This is clearly a testament to the expert arranging from Frank et al. The music and playing on this album is lively and true to the jazz tradition of tight arrangements, solid solos, driving rhythm section, and an approachable nature. This is not some esoteric exercise on one-ups man ship often present in albums in which there are stellar musicians. At no moment did this album feel like it wasn’t a team effort. Each person pitched in to make this album what it is.
What review of an album hosted on this site would be complete without a discussion of the baritone saxophonist? Frank Basile’s inspiration can be heard in his tone. There are pinches of Carney, dashes of Smulyan, and handfuls of Adams. Frank has a sound which is familiar but unique. It is both comforting and exciting to hear echoes of the greats playing modern jazz music.
After Frank there are two voices which really make this album. Those are Fabien Mary and Ehud Asherie. Fabien’s blend of Chet Baker’ish and Clifford Brown’ness makes his solo sections standout musically against the backdrop of the group; in a way he seems to add the edge to the sound of the group. Ehud Asherie on the other hand tends to rise out the music with his delicate lines and deliberate approach. His improvised lines never forget that trained and untrained ears will be enjoying this music. To that end his lines seem digestible to non-jazz ear as well as being exciting enough for the trained jazz-o-phile.
I do not wish to diminish the contribution the remainder of the band brought to the show. I will concede that each of them are spectacular musicians. Alex Hoffman’s full and dark tone on tenor saxophone plays well with the edgy Basile baritone. David Wong and Pete Van Norstrand feel as though they were riveted together. They seemed to play as a single unit, driving the music forward while providing the foundation for everyone else to build on. Wong’s bass solo on Fountain City Bounce was unexpected and enjoyable.
TAKE AWAY:  The only thing I feel would have added to this album is a trombone sound. Had Frank turned that sextet into a septet with addition of another brasswind I feel it would have completed the Little-Big-Band sound. Other than adding a voice I have nothing to change about the album. This deserves to be in every musician’s collection. It has variation and intensity that is sure to entertain just about any music lover.

 Line up:
Frank Basile – Baritone Saxophone
Fabien Mary – Trumpet
Alex Hoffman – Tenor Saxophone
Ehud Asherie – Piano
David Wong – Bass
Pete Van Norstrand – Drums

Cologne Saxophone Quintet Feat. Bob Mintzer – YO! (2005)

YO! – Cologne Saxophone Quintet featuring Bob Mintzer

Haven’t heard of the Cologne Saxophone Quintet? You are missing an auditory experience. Aside from great arrangements, superior tune choice, the largest variety of instrumentation since the Nuclear Whales Saxophone Ensemble, and amazing improvised solos there are two thing which stand out in this group. It is the addition of Bob Mintzer and the Eppelsheim Tubax Contrabass saxophone. Bob shares a side of himself which is not clearly shown in his work with the Yellow Jackets. He brings a sensitivity that you don’t need and would be covered up in a group as powerful as the yellow jackets. It is in this smaller more delicate group that Bob shows his ability as an improviser to outline and allude to the chords as he weaves stunning and moving lines over the backdrop of a quintet.
As a longtime fan of Mintzer and of saxophone ensembles it was only a matter of time before I found this album. I assure you I am glad I had. This album is full of great arrangements of popular and original music. There is no classical, modern classical or avant-garde music to be found on this album. Instead you will find arrangements of music made popular by Sting, Vanessa Williams, Average White Band, and featured in the motion picture “Forrest Gump”. This is just the tip of the iceberg for this album as the originals written for this album stand firmly on their own as well.
I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the sound which made me fall in love with this album from a gear point of view. Featured in several songs on the album is the Eb Eppelsheim Tubax horn. The horn is pitched an octave below the baritone and provides the grunt needed to convincingly carry the bass in pieces like “Pick up the pieces” and “Yo!” If you aren’t familiar with this horn from Europe manufacturer Eppelsheim you needn’t be ashamed. They are quite expensive and exceedingly rare in the musical world but they do bring a unique voice to ensembles. The tone is rather unique due to the horns slimmer and more cylindrical bore than that of a traditional a saxophone. The tone is somewhere between a contrabass clarinet and contrabass saxophone. With that in mind all of the Eppelsheim horns would do well just about any woodwind group. This is further backed by the fact that they produce Tubax’s in the keys of EEb, and BBb. They also have a more traditional Bb bass saxophone in production.
While this album has low end to spare it isn’t solely represented by Eppelsheim. The job is held down by Bass clarinet and Baritone saxophone as well. In the case of the baritone feature “Sie Sieht Mich Nicht” the Bass clarinet holds down the bass line freeing the baritone to take the lead. The baritone has a bouncing bass walk in Sting’s “Fragile” which works well with Mintzers moving solo.  This version, I might add is now my favorite version after the original.  Spread throughout this album is flute and clarinet parts in songs. This variety of upper voicing gives depth to the pieces and makes for sonic variation.
TAKE AWAY: Will this album change your life? Not likely but it is great listening and a wholely enjoyable way to spend a few bucks on an album For the record you can buy several of the charts from this album to play with your own group.

Adam Schroeder – A Handful Of Stars (2010)

Baritone Saxophone,  Adam Schroeder – A Handful Of Stars (2010)

There is a pensive moment, just after you hit play on your music player, as you wait for the first note from the soloist on that new CD. You wait as the rhythm section sets the scene and builds up to the moment when the soloist must speak. It is at that moment that I am most nervous. My mind races with 2 thoughts over  my decision to purchase this album.  It is not until the soloist takes their first breath into the album that I can rest easier.  For this album the first note Is the most important. Adam Schroeder’s first note sets the stage for the magic that follows.
Some in the saxophone web-o-sphere, *cough* saxontheweb *cough* have claimed that Yamaha horns are sterile sounding. That because they were born from a land of ritualized perfection, mathematical accuracy, and eastern craftsmanship that they lack soul or more specifically a uniquely Yamaha sound. Well Adam Schroeder puts that fallacy to rest with this album. His tone is his his to do with what he will and he does. At times it’s gritty and and at others butter smooth. Schroeder plays throughout his entire range without ever needing to reach for altissimo or ignore the nether regions of his low horn. At first I thought he might be playing it safe but when you listen closely you hear that he places tone and style above sonic tightrope walking and ultra-fast licks. 
This is one of those albums I wish I had heard when I was starting out on baritone saxophone. Schroeder and his group compliment each other superbly. Each instrument lends a tonal character which compliments the others while still maintaining their unique voices. It is an exercise in sensitivity, awareness, and mutual musical respect. There is no better example of mutual respect than the pairing than bari sax and upright bass on the duet “Just A-Sittin’ and A-Rockin'”. The two wind and weave lines into and round each other 3 minutes and 45 seconds of calm yet edge of your seat listening. 
This is a straight ahead jazz album with masterful playing and an attention to detail which deserves to be heard.  This album feels nostalgic and comfortable yet still has a fresh vibe that makes it stand out on the shelf.
TAKE AWAY:  Why don’t you own this album? Because until now you didn’t know about it. But now that you do, go get it. This album may not change your outlook on playing but it will give you a smile you can’t get any other way than with from a passionate musician sharing his love.

The Brian Landrus Quartet – Traverse (2011)

Brian Landrus Quartet – Traverse

When I think of a sensual saxophone tone my first thoughts lean towards the sultry tenor playing a bluesy piece in  smoke filled club as people drink hard liquor and snap their fingers. Sure it’s cliched but until I heard this album I was pretty comfortable with that vision. After listening to Brain Landrus’ amazing sensitivity I knew that I would have to expand my vision to include the baritone as a “saxually” capable instrument.

In keeping with my love of unique voices and tone I have to lead this review with a discussion of tone, and what a tone it is. His baritone tone is close up and intimate. It lacks the strong projection and distinct buzz easily identified with more modern setups. In fact I was so sure that he was playing a Otto Link that I had to visit his website to confirm. Wouldn’t you know, yes he does play several Links. Personally I have always loved the compact and centered, though somewhat stuffy, tone links bring to the baritone sax.

For a great example of spectrum of Landrus’s tone listen to  “Soul and Body”. This unaccompanied solo takes the listener on a journey. Visiting advanced techniques like multiphonics, split tones, subtones, and wide dynamic ranges. Landrus did this while still making the entire experience moving and musical. The piece is placed just ahead of “Body and Soul” on the album and adds another dimension to that oft recorded tune just by being in proximity.

Also on auditory display  is Landrus on bass clarinet. I’ll admit that outside of Bob Mintzer, I have very little listening experience to bass clarinets in jazz. With that in mind feel free to take this and anything else I say with a grain of salt. With the disclaimer stated I will say that his ability to tell a story is equal on bass clarinet as it is on the baritone saxophone. Landrus displays fantastic control and expressiveness. The way Landrus presents the bass clarinet makes it feel like the brother to the baritone saxophone and not like a gimmick. The two tones compliment without showing the other up.

As you might imagine, Landrus didn’t do it alone. He is accompanied by what I can only describe as some of the most sensitive and aware musicians available. Simply listen to Michael Cain on the track “Lone“. His use of empty space and a quiet confidence pushes the track along in a way that makes you long to hear how Landrus will fill the spaces when he comes in later. Simply put this track is sexy and just a bit melancholic.

Brian Landrus – Baritone Saxophone, Bass Clarinet
Lonnie Plaxico – Acoustic Bass
Michael Cain – Acoustic Piano
Billy Hart – Drums

TAKE AWAY: Buy this album. That’s it! Nothing more, just buy it. It’s worth the money at 2x the price to have a great musician playing originals and standards on demand from your CD player. At the very least you have a stellar example of what a vintage Link and Mk VI bari can do in the hands of an expert.

Brian’s website: Brianlandrus.com

Get this from Amazon like I did:

*** Correction *** – It has been brought to my attention that Brian may have been playing a Lebayle AT mouthpiece on this recording. If so I can say that I am excited to play one of these pieces as it seems to have  the qualities of a Otto Link but with something unique to Lebayle. I hope to get the chance to play one of these pieces myself soon. 

Henk Van Twillert – Bach: Cello Suites (2008)

To date I haven’t reviewed any classical music. This is not because I don’t love it. Actually like many students, it was my first foray in music. It served as the musical foundation for my learning and is my second musical love. Sadly, due to the fact there there is very little classical baritone music produced and just as little repertoire written for the horn, there was little for me to write about. As a classical alto player I was awash with music but as a baritone player I was forced to play alto literature or arrangements from other instruments. Sadly none of these included the Bach Cello Suites as heard on this album.

Henk Van Twillert shares his  interpretation of the music while preserving some of the improvisational feel written into J.S. Bach’s music. While this is a great goal for any musician to have, it is Van Twillert’s delivery method which makes this recording stand out. His fluency with the language of Bach and with the nuances of the baritone saxophone are evident in every track of this recording. His use of dynamic contrast and ability to make these solo lines move forward and stay interesting is without equal. 
To be clear this album has only one performer, Henk Van Twillert on the baritone saxophone. Henk plays the horn the room in which he is seated. His tone is a full and rich with just the right amount of buzz to make you feel at times that you maybe listening to Yo-Yo Ma. I cannot over emphasize how full his tone is from the top to the bottom of his horn. Van Twillert has amazing control of his horn and it shows in the huge intervals present in some tracks. Intervals, which for some would highlight any embouchure failings, for him are par for curse.  Example of this is Suite No. 3 in C major Mvt. VI – Gigue.
Take Away: I rarely gush over an album but I feel that, despite a few slightly dented notes and phrase  liberties for taking a needed breath, that this album is an absolute must for all classical saxophone players and more specifically baritone players. This album has a lot to offer other instruments as well. It is a study in control, tone, and musicianship at a high level. This is a must own for me.
Follow the jump below to the Amazon page where you get this album.

Jim Hartog – From Here To There (1988)

 This album was suggested to me by a reader and I had to find it on Amazon. Until this album I was only familiar with Jim Hartog as the baritone player of 29th Street Saxophone Quartet. This album is his project outside of that group.  This album proved to be an interesting listen and at times a frustrating one.  Track after track presented me with something different from the previous track and in some ways echoed his time spent with 29th Street Sax Quartet.

My favorite track on this album is Hartog’s piece “Well”. This piece is a loosely structured and orchestrated by Jim Hartog  on baritone sax, Art baron on trombone,  Tom Varner on French horn, Howard Johnson on tuba and Terry Clarke on drums. This piece has wistful and lilting freeform jazz feel. Hands down it is Hartog’s most creative and odd track on the album. Every instrument has aural space and seems to be playing a feeling more than just a musical line.  Admittedly I had to listen to this track at least 15 times before I felt like I understood what Hartog was telling the listener.  More than any track this piece made me glad to have bought the album. When I have time I will be transcribing this piece as a sax quartet with drums. (Alto, Tenor, Baritone, and Bass saxophones.)
The unexpected seems to be the best way to describe the various things happening on this album.  To prove this Hartog belts out a unaccompanied versions of Thelonious Monk’s tune “Epistrophy”. Unlike what you may expect from other renditions of this song Hartog takes huge creative liberties with time and structure. While I prefer the Monk version from his album “Thelonious Monk – 1963 In Japan CD”, this is easily my 3rd or 4th favorite version.
As you may imagine this album is not some garden of Eden.  There is just a tad bit of not so good to accompany the fantastic performances by Jeremy Kahn on piano and Essiet Essiet on bass.  My biggest complaint is neither with the music selection nor with the improvisations presented. No, my complaint is with Jim Hartog’s tone above “octave-G”.  Starting at that note and well into his palm keys his tone starts to thin and loose the guts it had in the lower register. It is so noticeable that it distracts from his playing. It is as if he has a physical issue with the instrument or just can’t muster the air support for the upper register. I doubt the later as his lower register really pops.  
 Take Away: This album is worth the money you would spend on it but it is not without its issues. Would I recommend this album over Hartog’s other works? No, but it is worth having in your collection for the shear joy of music and the interesting orchestrations presented.

***Click below to link to the album on Amazon.com***

Whom I won’t review

I’ve been asked why it is that you will never see reviews of music by Gerry Mulligan or Pepper Adams on this blog. They are arguably the most influential baritone players in jazz history after Harry Carney and quite possibly the most prolific. It is not as though i don’t don’t own plenty of both artists. In fact my favorite Mulligan album is  his 1957 release “Getz Meets Mulligan in Hi-Fi”. My favorite Adams album is his 1961 release “Out of This World: The Complete Warwick Sessions“.

I feel that every baritone saxophonist regardless of musical ambition should devote time and a little money into acquiring and devouring the music of these giants. These men have have defined their genre’s and redefined the role baritone saxophonists have in jazz music. The brilliant compositions of Mulligan and the effortlessness of Adam’s technique is without question the best thing that happened to baritone saxophones since its creation by Adolph Sax.

Now that I have doted over them I will explain why I won’t add to the cacophony of reviews already in print since the 1950’s. Critics from all walks of life and musical experience have reviewed the albums of both of these men throughout the ages. Is there anything new that I would hear that the calibrated ears of more practiced reviewers may have missed since the the original release date? In my practice I have not found a nuance in the music that has not been adequately discussed by other reviewers. With that in mind, and the fact that both of these men have since passed away, there is not likely to be a new release anytime soon unless like Tupac their holograms will be gracing a digital screen for new virtual performances.

Like many other bari players I simply listen to these sax titans and enjoy the magic of their creations for what they are, pure and simple joy. Joy as expressed on the apple of Adolph’s eye the Baritone Saxophone.

Ronnie Cuber – The Scene is Clean (1994)

What do you get when you combine the dinner scene from The Nutty Professor with the skill and talent of a world class saxophone player Ronnie Cuber? Why,  The Scene is Clean of course.

This latin inspired album surprised me constantly as Cuber plays nearly all of the woodwinds recorded. In any given track he has recorded at least two horns  parts. Whether he is playing two or three part harmonies over dubbed on alto, tenor and baritone or a soulful line on flute Cuber sounds true to each horn individually while bringing his unique improvisational style to each. It goes without saying that Cuber is quite likely the master of latin-bop baritone saxophone and it shows in spades on this album.
While it is not uncommon for artists to overdub parts on to a track to fill in the sound, complete a harmony or when additional musicians are not readily available. Whatever Cuber’s reason was it was a fantastic choice for the overall sound. It is this writers opinion the additional control over the sound was likely the reason for simply dubbing the additional saxophone voices. Thankfully his voice on each horn is unique enough that it doesn’t distract from the listening experience.

One has to appreciate the commitment Cuber makes to being stylistically authentic to his art. The second track Adoración by Eddie Palmieri is true to the salsa tradition while adding a dash of hard bop to the mix. On this track Cuber has scored it to sound nearly as full as Palmieri’s band of the 70’s. This happenes to be the only track in which their is anothe rhorn player. Lawrence Feldman accompanies Cuber on flute. Hands down this track is my favorite on the album but not by much as there is a lot to love. 
There are several Cuber originals in the mix. Arroz Con Pollo, Mezambo, and Fajardo. Arroz con pollo made a reappearance on this album from his 1991 album Cubism. I’m quite glad it did, Cuber included a more relaxed introduction to the song and gave the song a new improvised breath. Hearing him take the solo section in a new lyrical direction while maintaining a few ques from the previous recording I was very familiar with added a great deal to listening experience. 
Now what would a tried and true Cuber album be without a driving blues-rock piece? He did not disappoint on his track Tee’s Bag. This track features Joey De Francesco playing a smoking organ solo that is nearly the perfect example of how to systematically build a improvised solo. De Francesco builds his solo carefully and passionately, then in the style of great lyricists climaxes powerfully then rides it out with all the fire and brimstone of a southern minister. 
TAKE AWAY: Simply put, this album should be in your possession. At under $5 used on Amazon and under $10 new it is a steal for great music from a great artist. 
Ronnie Cuber – Baritone, Alto, Tenor, flute
Lawrence Feldman – Flute (track #2)
Geoff Keezer – Keyboards
Joey De Framcesco – Organ
George Wadenius – Guitar
Tom Barney – Bass (except tracks #2 & 4)
Reggie Washington – Bass (tracks #2 & 4)
Victor Jones – Drums
Manolo Badrena – Percussion and drums (except tracks #2 & 4)
Milton Cardona – Percussion and drums (tracks #2, 4 & 8 only)
1. The Scene Is Clean 
2. Adoracion
3. Song For Pharoah
4. Arroz Con Pollo
5. Mezambo
6. Fajardo
7. Tee’s Bag
8. Flamingo

Frank Basile – Modern Inventions (????)


Normally I would be discussing the amazing phrasing, tone, and technique used on an album, but not this time. The reason is that this album is not yet released and may not be if we don’t help. Frank Basile is one of my favorites of the current generation baritonists and I have his album “Thursday the 12th” in my to-do list when it is in stock at Amazon. This yet to be released album looks to have all the Adam’ish flare and Frank’s unique voice all over it and it deserves to be shared with the community.

What can we do to help? Head over to his Kickstarter page and offer your support. Even $1 will help complete this project and if you donate enough you could find yourself being made dinner by Frank himself in his New York apartment. Frankly I’d take a 1 hour lesson any day.

Here is the link to his Kickstarter page. Frank Basile’s New Sextet Recording Please take a moment and do what you can to bring great jazz to everyone.  Lets not forget you would get bragging rites to partially funding the album of a top level musician.

**** UPDATE ****

Thanks to everyone for following the link above and helping fund his project. I will bring you my views on this album when i receive it. Keep an eye out!

Recommended Recordings?

Normally I would just buy albums from Amazon, Ebay, iTunes, and local stores to find new and or interesting bari-centric music to review. When I do it usually takes me about a month of listening to form a solid and semi-coherent opinion. I usually listen on my iPod, car radio, and PC for a week solid then take 2 weeks off followed by another week of listening. I use this method with two to three albums at a time staggering them. For the most part it allows me to discover things about the music that i wouldn’t be able to catch if I only skimmed the tracks or gave the album a once over while I was reading or preoccupied with something else.
The has now come for me to start yet another batch of albums. I have in the rotation  Ronnie Cuber’s “The Scene is Clean” (1994),  Denis DiBlasio’ s “Where the Jade Buddha Lives”(2008), and Leo Parker’s “Let Me Tell You ’bout It (1961)“.

As you can image I have a lot of critical listening and writing ahead of me. This has left me with the need to find more Baritone and bass saxophone focused music to review. So with that in mind, I am asking you my readers to please suggest some music for me and everyone else to listen to.  I am looking forward to the responses.

James Carter – Chasin’ the Gypsy (2000)

While I’m not the worlds most dedicated James Carter fan I do recognize the guy as a virtuoso on the saxophone. After watching him play the Bass saxophone on Youtube videos I decided to spend some time listening to him play it on this 2000 release.

The first thing to get out of the way is that i didn’t like any recording of James on bass sax as displayed on Youtube. Aside from the the lack of quality audio and clips which lacked musical context in most cases, I just couldn’t stand his aggressive attack of the horn. It was as though he wanted to punish the horn for being so big and heavy. Determined not to let poor Youtube camera work deter me from finding joy in his work I ordered a CD. Thank goodness I did, my ears were in for a surprise.

Before I get ahead of myself, this album is a tribute to the music of Django Reinhardt. This fact with the knowledge that James Carter was playing his bass was enough to make me pull the trigger on this purchase. Well, that and knowing that his sister was playing violin. To that I must add that his sister is a great violinist and impressive improviser as evident in the back and forth licks on the track “Avalon” and a few other solo sections scattered throughout the album.

Rather than take apart the entire album I will focus on the songs in which Carter plays bass saxophone. This is a blog dedicated to bari and bass saxes so what else would you expect. Before I leave the the other 6 non-bass tracks behind I will say that they are common James Carter. Full of flourishes, slap tonguing, musical overindulgence, and a flare for the extravagant. Carter brings his unique voice to everything that he plays. Love him or hate him he is still making more money than 99.9% of the saxophonist of the world and produces albums of legit jazz almost yearly.

Now for what we all came to discuss; bass saxophone. Carter kicks this album off in a bass’tastic way. “Nuages” is a gypsy swing tune by Django Reinhardt (from this point on known as D.R.) and Carter holds true to the feeling of the original. His playing here is lyrical and deliberate. He manages to curtail some of his usual musical bravado and really falls into the lilting swing style. This is the track I feel best represents what he can do with a bass saxophone.

The second tune “Artillerie Lourde” is a driving swing tune by D.R. which Carter falls back to his more tenor-like playing style. His use of slap tongue, split tones, and multiphonics are in play towards the end of the track. While impressive from a technical point of view I don’t feel they added a great deal to the musical narrative laid out earlier in the track. Now if you are a fan of Carter then you know this is par for the course.

The last of the bass tracks is the tune “I’ll never be the same” by D.R.. This track features the bass saxophone in a supportive but lyrical role. Carter adds firm support to Romero Lubambo’s Django inspired lines until about half way through the track. At this point he opens his solo with a powerfully subdued line. Of course he then takes it close to the “playing like a tenor player” line and back again. But at the end of his rather brief solo section he returns to the support role. I feel that in this one track Carter has defined a modern role for this often ignored horn.

I would be remiss not to discuss his tone and equipment. Carter has a unique tone on the bass saxophone. His setup on horn is likely an International Winds IW-661 bass saxophone and played with a Geoff Lawton  baritone saxophone mouthpiece. I cannot confirm this exact setup as there is very little written on his bass saxophone setup but the evidence is that he’s been seen with an IW basss saxophone and his choice of mouthpieces on all of his horn are Geoff Lawton’s.  With that setup in mind it is not at all surprising that his tone isn’t as warm as that of Adrian Rollini or as broad in depth as the amazing tone of Bert Brandsma. 

Take Away: The 3 bass saxophone tracks are some of my favorite featuring this underutilized horn. Would I buy the album again for just these three tracks? No, I would purchase them on iTunes individually and save a few dollars.

Bass saxophone tracks:
Artillerie Lourde
I’ll Never Be The Same

James Carter (soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone, bass saxophone)
Jay Berliner (steel guitar)
Romero Lubambo (nylon-string guitar)
Regina Carter (violin)
Charlie Giordano (accordion)
Joey Baron (drums)
Cyro Baptista (percussion)