Sound is where it all begins for the listener. No matter how much of a virtuoso a performer is, if their sound is not good then the listener will ignore their best efforts. What use is the ability to play the changes, extend the range, or use advanced techniques if the player does not sound pleasing to the ear? How to develop a personal and pleasing sound is the first and most important thing every musician should learn to do. Recognizing a need for a more modern interpretation of this age old lesson, saxophonist and blogger Ben Britton has created an instructional method which that is creative and builds on the general saxophone tradition.

When I first flipped through this book I began to recognize ideas and concepts that I had read before. if you have read any of the following: Top Tones for the Saxophone by Sigurd Rascher , Developing A Personal Saxophone Sound by David Liebman, or Tone Quality by David Hollingsworth; then you will likely recognize half of the presented material. To me this isn’t a bad thing. The author does a great job of citing ideas which are not his and his bringing together ideas from multiple sources saves the reader a lot of money. Consider going to your local small business and sourcing the reference material. It could cost you up to 10x the cost of this print and you would still have to read and extrapolate the high value lesson within each one.

What separates this book from many others you many others? The first separator is: lessons which are not gathered from outside sources is generally well written and explained. There are very few “what’s” without an accompanying “why”. The second is the available audio recordings. Ben has provided audio recording of the lessons as demonstrated by him on tenor saxophone. These samples give more understanding and context to each lesson. The time spent adding quality samples is what helps this book stand out. No longer does the student have to wonder if they are getting it right. All the student has to do now is listen and emulate Ben’s examples.

>> Link to Audio <<

TAKE AWAY: The exercises in this book will, if used as directed, will lead to better control and a more personal relationship with your sound. Period. This is a great book to give beginners and experienced players alike. Though beginners should have some professional guidance in the early stages of learning the horn.

Willamette – rel.2012

What do you get when you mix punk, rock, a dash of metal and blend with an in your face baritone saxophone? Willamette, of course. This band is pushing the convention of baritone saxophone playing and kicking ass along the way. This is not some “Morphine” tribute group or a jazz quartet dabbling in the dark musical arts. This is a group of musicians with love of the style and desire to make it their way.

As is the norm with my reviews I have to address the tone Mat Rippetoe brings to the album. His baritone tone is full and loaded with power. It is not a pure tone as he is using many audio effects on the baritone sax. You may think that this would be a bad thing but in this case it works perfectly and is mostly transparent. The effect of his tonal modifications was to give his tone more edge and ability to stand along side the distorted guitar and punchy bass. Sure, he could have bought a mouthpiece that gave him punch, a Rico Metalite comes to mind, but at a cost to overall tone. His use of a Yanagisawa metal baritone mouthpiece was a good choice as it is a medium bright piece with loads of flexibility.

When I first heard Mat on the tune “Knots” I would have sworn that Ronnie Cuber had joined the group in that moment. His improvised solo was punchy, funky and the perfect Cuber’ish sound made the song my favorite on the album. This was one of many moments while listening to this album that I was genuinely surprised. The improvised solos by Mat and Yoshie Fruchter are appropriate and fit the metal music genre perfectly. The solos reflect their jazz education and their practiced metal and punk ears.

The things that bothered me about the album were more nit picky than anything else. Some songs across the album were a little cliched and though they were accurate to the general style of music at play they didn’t shine as brightly as some other. For example “Fonebone” didn’t have the intensity and “Dark Star” but was still a good song. The other mildly bothersome thing is the audio sound-stage sounds large due to an overly healthy dosage of reverb. This has a tendency to add body to the slightly annoying effects sizzle you hear at the top of the track. This doesn’t detract from the experience but when you listen with quality earphones it is present in the empty musical spaces.

Take Away: I truly hope that young people playing baritone saxophone listen and realize that with some imagination, preparation, and dedication they too can make great genre bending music. I wish these guys commercial success and that they start a mailing list so I will know when the next release is due.

You can buy their album on Itunes and directly from http://mrippetoe.bandcamp.com/album/willamette

Line up:
Matt Rippetoe – baritone saxophone
Yoshie Fruchter – guitar
Gary Pickard – bass
Dave Previ – drums

Love your repair guy/gal?

There is a relationship that people outside of the musical arts may have have a difficult time understanding. It is the love-hate relationship between the musician and the tech who keeps their instrument in playable condition. The musician must leave their beloved and personally valuable tool of expression in the hands of a trusted technician to restore form, function, and capability. This can take hours to weeks depending on the techs workload and severity of the repair needed.

In many ways musical instrument repair is like medicine. You bring the tech your sick and ailing instrument and they take it to their work bench and perform miracles. In the privacy of their work space they huddle over their brassy patient trying to determine if your description of the symptoms represents the problem as a whole or are part of a much bigger issue. Then after much careful work they pronounce the operation a success and call you to pickup your loved one and pay the price.

As baritone and bass saxophone players we have issues specific to playing the large horns. Issues like lower stack alignment because of the long rods and leverage points well away from keys they activate. Dents seem to appear like magic on the bow of the baritone saxophone. These are just a few of the “little” issues that seem to plague us big horn guys and gals. So what this really means is that your relationship with your repair person is even more important than what a small horn player may have.

In my experience I have found that baritone saxophone players are the most tolerant of issues with their instruments than any others in the saxophone family. Why are we more willing to deal with a stuffy note here or a warble there? Have a zip-tie holding on a clothes guard or key brace? Perhaps a piece of expertly placed duct-tape securing some important piece of the instrument? I don’t know too many gigging tenor or alto players who would tolerate make shift repairs for as long as bari players tend to. I am guilty of it as well, I have the dreaded Yamaha YBS-61 stuffy “G” issue which requires moving the octave pip. It’s not likely it’s going to get repaired soon due to my repair persons busy schedule and my need to play it.

Let us not forget that all repair techs are not created equally. First and foremost these people are business people and for the independent repair person this is their livelihood. Because there is always a shortage of top quality repair techs, repair prices can be all over the map depending on where you take your horn. Supply and demand is not the only factor in pricing or speed of repair. It can boil down to who you are. School band repairs make up the majority of my techs bread and butter repairs. Heaven forbid you drop a horn off on a day when they just received a load of bent keyed saxes , cracked clarinets, or sticky keyed flutes. Be prepared to park your baby in the repair black-hole for a couple weeks.,

So what do you do? If you are like me, you learn to make the repairs you can and leave the advanced stuff to the qualified tech. For example:  neck cork replacement should never be paid for when any sax player with a bit of glue, piece of cork, a strip of sand paper, and a razor can complete this job in less than 20 minutes. Gluing a key pearl back on a key is another easy fix which shouldn’t be paid for. By doing so we can avoid a backlog at the techs shop for simple repairs.

TAKE AWAY: If your tech is like mine then bring them a 4 pack of Guiness Draught and hope they can complete your repair in less than 2 months otherwise live with clicky keywork for a few more months. After all, who doesn’t like an improvised solo with self accompanied percussive effects.

Shirantha Beddage – Identity (2012)

Shirantha Deddage Identity

Not since Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker’s collaborations have I been excited to hear a trumpet and baritone saxophone creating small ensemble jazz.  But is this album is a worthy successor to Shirantha Beddage’s 2006 album “Roots and Branches“?

Six years have passed since the “Roots and Branches” album and Beddage’s tone and tastes have matured and become more refined. It is easy to hear that his sound as a whole has become a part of who he is more completely than it was in 2006. This has manifested itself as the most baritone-like tone I’ve heard in a while. It is intensely clean and clearly discernible as a baritone saxophone on every note and in every register. In fact, if I had students I would be hard pressed to choose between Beddage and Brian Landrus as an example of what a powerful and modern bari tone could be.
Variety seem to be a pattern with Beddage’s composing style, there are wide variations in the style of each song. This has the effect of leaving you curious about what is going to be next. Also a trademark of his composition style is the length of his pieces. He gives ample time for his thoughts and feelings to play themselves out throughout each piece. This gives the listener time to connect to each piece in a uniquely personal way that is difficult when a piece is too short or the individual improvised sections occur to rapidly. His use of time, tempo, and rhythm as the 6th member of the group really makes this album standout in my collection. The only other baritone player I felt really used time and rhythm well is Ronnie Cuber.
This album has some of the hippest grooves I’ve heard on a jazz album in a while. The listener can’t help but bop your head along with the rhythm section on Winds of Change and Pyramid Scheme. These pieces are pushed along by the driving rhythm section. This forms the backdrop for Dave Restivo’s passionately playful piano and Rhodes solos.  Of course Restivo isn’t working alone here, on bass is Mike Downes. His playing is exactly what you would want from a bass player. He keeps the groove going, supports the improviser and serves as the harmonic foundation of the group. He is both visible and invisible in the groups sound.

I would be remiss if I didn’t describe Nathan Eklund’s contribution on the trumpet. His sensitivity as an artist is evident in every phrase and every note. Through out this album he plays with passion, precision and consideration while never stepping on the rest of the band or trying to steal the spotlight. After all he has his own project, The Nathan Eklund Group to fulfill his spotlight needs. Personally I would have loved to hear him on the Flugelhorn on the tracks he is on. His Flugelhorn tone is in inviting mix of Miles Davis and Chuck Mangione.

Take Away: This album is replete with musical gems, interesting quotes, and introspective composing. I recommend purchasing this album, twice if you have friends who may want to borrow it. If I could change or add anything to this album it would be a Blue-Ray “making of” movie or a downloadable concert video.
On Further Consideration: Despite my glowing opinion of this album I recognize that it is not all things to all people. It is a well-made album of modern compositions and neither Carney, Brignola, Adams, nor Mulligan reside here.  I feel that there are at least 2 future jazz standards on this album: Pushin’, and Winds of Change come to mind most immediately.
Personnel:
Shirantha Beddage –  Baritone Saxophone / Bass clarinet
Nathan Eklund – Trumpet
Dave Restivo – Piano / Fender Rhodes
Mike Downes – Bass
Mark Kelso – Drums (tracks 1, 4 – 9)
Larnell Lewis – Drums (track 2, 3)

My James Carter Experience

I’ll admit it, I’ve never been a huge fan of James Carter. I’ve always felt his tone was rather harsh and his playing style was somewhat unconvincing at times. By this I mean he played every other saxophone exactly as he plays his tenor. Soprano, Alto, Baritone, and Bass are all subject to the Carter experience. I don’t think there is anything wrong with having a unique tone and style. After all isn’t that what we all strive to have? But I feel he leaves a lot of the nuances of the particular horns behind when he applies his brand of playing to them.  Carter seems to dominate any horn you put in his hands.

Don’t agree? There is something that you can hear and feel when you hear a musician who has worked out every corner in his sound on his chosen horn. That horn for Carter is clearly his tenor. He seem to know how to coax out every conceivable tone the horn can make both pretty and ugly. Yes, I said ugly. Have you heard him scream through the horn? It’s abrasive and rough on the ears. When he applies this coaxing to the other horns in the family that I feel like he’s leaving a lot of tonal  possibilities on the table.

Now with that out of the way I have to say that I still believe the things I’ve said above but also that the man is a genius. The very things that I dislike about him are some of the things I have learned to like in him. He is a musician who is not afraid to reach beyond the current conventions and play anything in anyway.Why not play Satin Doll while slap tonguing every note on bass saxophone? How about a squeaking  screaming, growling rendition of My Funny Valentine?  His passion and volatility are worn on his shoulder as he plays and its infectious.

I would dare someone to present to me a living player who’s complete disregard for the modern playing conventions has changed the way tenor players and other saxophone players in general have seen their horns. Sure, many of his “advanced” have been used in rock and roll for ages but bringing them back to jazz is his legacy. Youtube is a wash with his performances and finding one to suit your needs is easy. Perhaps his online presence is his next greatest legacy.

In all I have come to appreciate his musicianship, technique, and playing outside of expectations. I am still unconvinced of his baritone and bass tone. Just not my cup of tea.  Check out this Master Class.

The Rein De Graaff Trio – Baritone Explosion! Live at Nick’s (2008)

This album is the auditory equivalent of watching Godzilla and Mothra battle it out in the center of a large Japanese city. Each of the solo musicians is a titan and brings a level of musicianship which both challenges and compliments the other. The titans in questions are baritone saxophone greats, Ronnie Cuber and the late Nick Brignola.
The hardest part about writing this review was taking off the headphones long enough to get anything written. Each of these men gives life and passion to the baritone saxophone in ways that aren’t easily explained. This is clearly a testament to their love of the horn and their dedication as musicians. Their voices on these horns are a different as night two peoples speaking voices but blend so well that at times it’s hard to hear where one begins and the ends. Clearly, this album would have been even better if it were a video of the concert.
The musician who obviously brought this into fruition is Rein De Graff. His piano virtuosity is apparent throughout this recording without starting a game of one-upmanship. His playing is delicate, pervasive, and moves the music forward without ever letting the two lumbering horns run away with the set. To hear this rhythm section play is a wonderful exercise in presence and support without dominance and ego. “The right note, at the right time” as my first saxophone teacher used to say.
This album features some of my favorite jazz standards: Blue Train, A Night in Tunisia, and In a Sentimental Mood to name a few. Because of this the album has the feel of a great jam night out at a jazz club rather than an extensively mixed down studio recorded album.  There are times when each player chips an altissimo note or comes in a fraction of a second too early or drops out of a long note due to breath. But that doesn’t  take away from the listening experience. It helps us hear that these musical super men have to breath like the rest of us musical mortals and that keeping super accurate timing can even be tough for the pro’s at time.
Not since the Three Baritone Saxophone Band has there been a better batch of players on the baritone in one recording. Though to be forthcoming this is two thirds of the Three Baritone Saxophone band and in a way it does feel like it’s missing a little Smulyan but that sentiment is short lived when the music pickups. All the pieces on this album have a live energy you don’t get from the expertly recorded Three Baritone Saxophone Band Plays Mulligan” album.

Of course I don’t want to sell short Rein De Graff or the rest of his trio. These musicians are close and form the core on to which the magic of dual bari saxes can expose itself. Rein is a monster player in his own right and a virtuoso by any measure. His solos are skillful, complex and endearing to the listener. That coupled with the intimate musical relationship between Ineke on bass and Serierse on drums is the formula for a perfect rhythm section. 

TAKE AWAY: This album sets the bar high for baritone saxophonists. The individual playing is playful and exciting. There isn’t a single track which disappoints. This is an album to own and enjoy regularly as there is something new to discover on every playing.. 

Tracks:
1. Softly As In A Morning Sunrise
2. Caravan
3. In A Sentimental Mood
4. What’s New
5. A Night In Tunisia
6. Blue Train
7. Crack Down

Lineup:
Nick Brignola – Baritone Saxophone
Ronnie Cuber – Baritone Saxophone
Rein De Graaff – Piano
Eric Ineke – Drums
Koos Serierse – Bass


It’s been a busy 2 weeks around the MBS space. My day job has become a day and night job and reviewing music and products had to take a slight back seat as I struggled to find enough practice time. But things are getting back in line and it’s time to start writing again.

Coming up soon is a review of a great album of yesterday..  Baritone Madness..

With a line up this it would have to be great. Or would it?
Pepper Adams (saxophone)
Nick Brignola (saxophone)
Ted Curson (trumpet)
Roy Haynes (drums)
Dave Holland (bass)
Derek Smith (piano)


Also on the agenda is a review of a mouthpiece I just had to try. It is the largest mouthpiece I’ve every played. I’ll be including some sound samples as well..

Stay tuned, and thank s for keeping this place up and running.

Erik Lawrence – Hipmotism (2007)

Listening to the music on this album is like reaching into a bag of assorted jellybeans and eating whatever you touch.  Sure, most of what you touch you will like but every now and then you find a spicy cinnamon or the inky blackness of licorice and it will make you recoil. This album has music to love and music that makes you wonder why it was paired with the other tracks around it. At times I found myself forgetting what I was listening to.
As is my tradition, I have to address the 500lb gorilla in this musical room. Erik Lawrence’s baritone is the dominant voice in this quartet and rightfully so. He takes command and leads this group from out front musically. His tone is not a bright as one might expect for a solo artist but it has bite and depth. His tone is a good compromise between a soloist focused uber-baffled tone and one that would get lost in the mix with the bass.  Lawrence’s command of his horn is evident as he moves into and out of altissimo while playing some of the funkiest improvised lines ever played on a baritone.
His counter voice on this album is an instrument that I now lust to play with. Steven Bernstein makes the slide trumpet sound like less of a little trombone and more of a glissando happy trumpet. His higher voicing adds breadth to the sound palette that a tenor saxophone or tenor trombone would lack. This works well as both horns are comping each other during solos as there is no piano or guitar to define chords. Instead the bass and the non-improvising musician draw the underlying chords for the improviser. The effect on the listener is that of musicians who love to play and the feeling that these they are connected.
There are some superbly inspired New Orleans style funky pieces on this album. “Big Chief” and “Soulville” really stand out as feet stomping and booty shakingly fun pieces. These two are worth the price of admission to this musical wonderland. After each of these pieces is sandwiched tunes which are a akin to the funeral dirges you hear on the way to the cemetery in a New Orleans funeral. They are great in their own and provide contrast but with the tempo set to “fun” these pieces bring you back to earth rather harshly.
This album has a couple ahead jazz pieces as well and a bit of an unexpected gem, the Beatles song “Come together”.  This piece is worth mentioning on its own because musically there is a great deal happening at all times. From jingle bells ringing like gentle rain in the background to Bernstein’s breathy slide solo, This piece changes pace often, and is led by the subtly hip drums. Then, like a funk bandit, Lawrence begins his solo and gives the funk beat something to push against. From there Lawrence slowly builds his solo and by ½ way though his solo Rene on bass hits his phaser and distortion pedals and reminds us that this is and was a rock song.
TAKE AWAY:  I like this album and will likely rip it to my ipod. Not all of the songs but most of them to be sure. This is the type of album I would recommend listening to on iTunes and buying the tracks that you like. You are bound to like more than half.
Erik Lawrence – Baritone Saxophone
Steven Bernstein  – Slide trumpet
Allison Miller – Drums
Rene Hart – Acoustic Bass


B. J. Jansen & Conjura – The Movement Vol. 1 (2011)
It is a strange feeling to hear a musician and instantly feel connected to them. This is the case with the tone of B.J. Jansen. His bari tone sounds exactly like the tone I hear in my head when I play. I am not suggesting that I sound like him. I do not sound like the tone I hear in my own head. When I listen to recording of myself I never sound the same as in my head. He on the other hand is my imagination made real. His tone is husky, dark, and above all else clear. It has the classic sound of a big chamber mouthpiece and lots of air to support the big hulking horn. 
B. J. Jansen & Conjura – The Movement Vol. 1 (2011)This album surprised me more than anything else I’ve heard recently, short of the “Call me maybe” musical meme trouncing all others on the net. I had never heard of B. J. Jansen or the group he leads called Conjura before I pressed play. What greeted me was collection of musicians which from their makeup made me think cool jazz. The lineup is Bari, Trumpet, Drums, Bass, and Piano. With a lineup like that I almost expected to here Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker  to come out of my speakers. That was certainly not the case but it does show that the combination still has viability and as much auditory appeal as it did 60 years ago. The complimentary ranges and tones allow for a depth that I don’t think is possible with instruments whose ranges overlap completely.
 
I have to draw attention to the other wind voice, Daud El-Bakara. What impressed me the most, is his use of space in his solos. Sure, his runs are a tad sloppy at times but I think it adds to the overall feel of the music. His style compliments Jansen while never stealing the show with absurd altissimo or too clichéd licks. I don’t mean to suggest his playing is only adequate. It is quite the opposite in my opinion. He has something to say and with every opportunity he does and that helps keep the music vibrant and moving.
I am always cautious when doling out criticism because the first response is usually “Can you do any better?” and in some cases it is a yes and in others it’s a no but I listen to more baritone music than most. I spend 4 to 6 hours listening to an album before writing about it. With that out of the way I not particularly enamored with Jansen’s improvisational style for a artist whose name is listed aside from the group he leads. In some pieces his improvised solos tend ramble compared to other solo artists I’ve reviewed. It’s only on a couple songs where this seems to be the case.  “Relaxin’ with Jessica” is one of them but in contrast is the first 1:40 of his solo on “Brandon’s Blues. Very laid back and open sounding as he is accompanied by only the bass.
Take Away: Buy it. This album is well made and a good listen. There is a lot to like but sadly I did not personally connect to the album as a whole. I would recommend listening to it as there are great phrases to learn and it’s priced very well on Amazon.com.
B.J. Jansen – Baritone Saxophone
Daud El-Bakara – Trumpet
Christopher Beck – Drums,
Mike Boone – Bass,
Frank Stagnitta – Piano
Ed Wise – Bass
Wayne Smith Jr. – Drums

Could your dream Baritone be made?

 I’ve asked this question on various saxophone forums but for the life of me I can’t what I did with the archived answers. So I’ll ask the question again, here and on twitter. What features would you want on a new baritone, or any saxophone for that matter, if you had access to a factory and the skilled workers to craft your dream horn? To be clear you can not go back in time and craft a Mark VI or any other vintage horn.

For me it would have to be a Low-Bb/A bari with:

    Selmer baritone saxophone image by Sylenius

  • Optional low-A Extension
  • Solid Silver Neck (optional but pretty)
  • Adjustable palm key risers (ala Keilwerth)
  • Adjustable Side key heights
  • Upper stack key guards (ala Conn 12m)
  • Fully Ribbed Construction
  • Full floral or Art Deco engraving
  • Multiple position Strap Hook
  • Case with wheel which tuck into the case when not needed
  • Case with 4 wheels that can be rolled standing up (ala roller luggage)
  • Case with a drop down foam panel to hold folding stand, music, and random bari stuff.
  • Optional slide/lock to fix the G# open during storage
  • User replaceable key pearls.
  • O-Ring instead of cork, neck cork. (ala Warburton necks)
  • Extra heavy bracing on Bow
  • Yamaha styled keywork
  • 5-10% thicker material (ala Martin’s or so I’m told.)  Some of the heaviest horns I’ve ever played were Martins.

What would you like to see on your newly built dream horn?


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.
Performers:
Jason Marshall – Baritone Saxophone
Ondřej Pivec – Hammond B3 Organ
Russell Carter – Drums
Paul Bollenback – Bass

I know some have complained that the comment system was a pain so I am try this new system by the makers of wordpress. It promises to make leaving comments easier and less hassle for the readers. Please let me know if you don’t like the new system.

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.
Musicians
Michael Stryker – Piano
Jared Schonig – Drums
Ryan Kotler – Bass 
Shirantha Beddage – Baritone, Tenor, Soprano Saxophone

I know it’s been a while since I’ve reviewed of discussed anything but there is a good reason. I’ve been waiting for several albums to arrive from Amazon. There is nothing worse than having to wait but i prefer to have physical CD’s and the inserts to go with them. I still rip them to flac or mp3 but I like to start with a physical CD.

So what is on the horizon for MBS?

The albums:

Roots and Branches – Shirantha Beddage
Movin’ On – Claire Daly
Sign the Book – Jason Marshall
Baritone Sunride – Dale Fielder Quartet

The books:
The Music Lesson: A Spiritual Search for Growth Through Music by Victor Wooten
Studies and Improvisations for Saxophone – Bud Freeman
John Coltrane Patterns – Compiled by Eric Dannewitz

This is just a touch of what I will be talking about in the coming weeks. If you have any suggestions please let me know.

Jonah Parzen-Johnson - Michiana
http://jonahparzen-johnson.com

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.