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 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

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.

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.

François Louis Master Class

Master mouthpiece maker François Louis (FL) explains his philosophy, mouthpiece mechanics and the basics of how reed choice effects sounds. Here are some excerpts of M. Louis masterclass. If you are not familiar with him or his pieces then you may be familiar with his sound. Baritonist Ronnie Cuber has played FL mouthpieces for a large part of his career and swears by them. Other great musicians playing his pieces include Jerry Bergonzi, Bob Sheppard, and Joe Lovano. Obviously these great names in the art of saxophone playing could play just about anything they wanted and they chose his mouthpieces. Keep that in mind as he shares his passion.


Choosing your saxophone mouthpiece. François Louis’ master class at Mariachi from dmitry semaev on Vimeo.

Not sure if you want to watch the entire 1 hour video? Here is a sample from the first 7 minutes.

François Louis {FL} on choosing a reed


00:05:39 – FL: “..the reed will be comfortable according to your natural air pressure. There are people who blow with a lot of pressure and they will need a hard reed, and if it’s natural for you to play with little pressure you will comfortable with a soft reed. So it doesn’t make a bigger sound because it’s hard reed. So what I say to have a reed which is comfortable, is that you would just blow naturally, no forcing at all. <blows out> Just relaxing and you should have no sound if you do that in the saxophone. But as soon as you push a little <more intense air puff> you get a sound. That is the perfect balance of resistance that you will control perfectly.

Modern Bari Sax (MBS) interpretation:  The right reed strength is one where upon taking a relaxed breath through the horn creates no sound but when the air stream is intensified slightly creates a sound.

FL on ligature placement


00:06:31 – FL: “Put the ligature on the mouthpiece, if you put the ligature on the front of the mouthpiece this distance will be short. <gestures to distance from front edge of ligature to tip of reed> If you put it on the back like Dexter (reference to Dexter Gordon) This point will come to here. <gesturing to diagram>.. And what is the main quality of Dexter Gordon’s sound? A very fat buzz, and its the back of the reed that really hits the beginning of the table. 

MBS:  The ligatures placement along the reed can effect the qualities present in the tone. In the case of Dexter Gordon, his fat buzz was in part due to his placement of the ligature very far from the tip of the reed.

TAKE AWAY: This video is worth watching because if you listen and use some of his knowledge it could help you identify traits you like in your current setup or help you in selecting your next setup.

 


Where are all of the bass saxophones going?

If you haven’t been watching ebay for the last few years then you’ve missed out on the influx of Chinese made horns. These horns have taken the beginner market by storm. So much so much so that the traditional manufacturers have been priced out of the marketplace. Big producers like Yamaha, Yanigasawa, and Keilwerth still produce student horns but I am sure they sell them at a much lower rate than before. Whereas Selmer has chosen to take advantage of the Asian production capacity and  have a line of  student horns made by Taiwanese manufacturer under the brand La Voix.

With Asian manufacturers improving the quality of their builds it was only a matter of time before they would produce a bass saxophone,  and boy did they. Asian manufacturers choose to copy the “French wrap” a la Selmer and the more classic Buescher/Conn style. Regardless of which style you prefer the fact that new production of these behemoths  and at a price which is “affordable” is the best news of all.

If you hop to ebay and search you will find an average of 2 to 3 new Asian made bass saxes available and usually a single vintage Conn or Buescher. Now I don’t assume they are all sold but if we average 2 to 4 a month there should be a large pool of these beasts sitting in peoples homes. To that end, how is it that they are not showing up in recordings either. Colin Stetson, James Carter, and Bert Bandsma  are some of the best known bass players currently playing these horns but they can’t be the only ones.

With that in mind, if you have and/or play  bass saxophone please let us know what you do with yours. Please share the type of music you play with it and how it is received by your audience if you play in front of others. Let’s do what we can to bring this beast to the forefront and make it less of a gimmick and more of a valued member of the saxophone family.

Extending the range of the baritone saxophone has been quite the adventure for many saxophone players. Like many I did not start on baritone, instead I began on alto then migrated to the baritone in college. Throughout the pre-bari time I spent countless hours working over the Top-Tones book by Siguard Rascher. I had extended my range to a confident 3 octaves on most scales and arpeggios. That was short lived when I moved to playing the baritone.

Why was it so difficult? The main difficulty was that it felt as though no harmonic was lining up the way they did on alto,  fingered a Bb and out popped an A. My private teacher didn’t have a great explanation initially for this other than to pull the note down with my embouchure. It was a short time later that he explained that “Low-A” bari’s will play altissimo notes a half step lower due to the extended length of the horn when compared to a “low-Bb” horn. This made sense for me as my Buescher 400 bari felt more alto like in the altissimo range than my YBS-61.  This put me on the quest to find charts which applied to the “Low-A” bari and facilitated smooth transitions between notes. After all if it is cumbersome or awkwards to finger then there is an increased risk that you’ll miss the note at the exact moment you need it.

Ronnie Cuber altissimo chart from The Saxophone Journal

One of my favorite players, Ronnie Cuber, shared his fingerings for a few notes in a back issue of the Saxophone journal. Of course these fingerings are the ones he made up so that he could get around his horn. Which is a Mark VI for those who don’t know.

Cuber is not the only baritone player to extend his range successfully. The late Nick Brignola had a masterful tone in the upper registers. For a more modern player listen to the baritone player Jeff Suzda. His use of altissimo is both in good taste and beautiful on the ears. In recent weeks I’ve been in contact with him about his use of altissimo and he has forwarded me his fingering chart which is very fluid and comparable Cuber’s but more extensive. Suzda’s finger chart: Jeff Suzda’s Altissimo Chart for Baritone.

Of course the most important question to ask yourself before you head down the altissimo path is: why do it at all? The baritone is the lowest of the saxophone voices common in today’s music and is almost never called on to play in a range comparable to an alto. So why invest effort to learning to play into a register that is both difficult and, even when played well, still sounds somewhat odd. Imagine Avi Albrecht singing Alvin and the Chipmunk styled falsetto. For those not familiar with his powerful baritone voice consider Josh Turner or Randy Travis taking their voices in to the stratosphere.

For me the reason for the extended range is a personal challenge to be enjoyed by my wife and cats. I don’t play in to the range at a show unless written. For me, just knowing that I have that in my tool box is enough. Although there is a sadistic pleasure in playing the solo trumpet part of MacArthur park in altissimo while the solo trumpet is trying to figure out who’s messing with him. They never suspect the baritone player.  By the way,  I only did it twice for effect during rehearsals. Thankfully the other sax players never gave me away.

TAKE AWAY: Good luck in your personal quest for extending the range of your baritone.  You owe it to yourself as a musician to own and utilize the Top-Tones book. It’s benefits go far beyond just altissimo. It will improve your ear, mind, air support, and embouchure.

 

Metalite? Is it metal? Is it metal-like? What it is, is a whole  lot of mouthpiece in a small grey form.

I bought this piece because it is the most highly recommended baritone mouthpiece for people who see loud and inexpensive as a must haves in a baritone mouthpiece. I bought this one to find out what the hype was about.

First Impressions: The mouthpiece is oddly cheap feeling. If you are used to hard rubber or brass pieces then this one will feel like a child’s toy.

Ligature: I used the stock two screw ligature and a Chinese made Rovner-like ligature. I couldn’t tell the difference in tone between them.

Reed friendliness: Reeds used in play test: Rico Brancher Jazz 2.5’s, Rico Orange Box 3, Hemke (3, 2.5), Fibracell (2.5, 4), LaVoz Medium Hard, Legere 2 1/4. This piece prefered the softer Medium/2.5 – 3 reeds.

Response: With the Brancher reeds the response was immediate and percussive. Sadly the tone was buzzy with the Branchers. The Hemke’s gave a good balance between buzz, response, and tone but was not perfect. It also didn’t help that I had a rather “wet” mouth today and had to drain the horn often.

Tonal/Dynamic Flexibility: I fought this piece from the get-go to get a restrained tone. This thing wants to wail and it’s a bit of a bucking bronco to rein in. I had to be very focused on where my tongue was and of how much mouthpiece to take into my mouth. This piece can have a broad dynamic range but it is not as easy as with a Link or S-80.

Other: Give this piece an arena and it will strive to fill it with sound but if you take it into a small intimate jazz jam you may be asked to leave.

Intonation: On my modern horn it played in tune as well as my other pieces but tended to blow flat into the palm keys. I have noticed this tendency on pieces with high baffles when used on my saxophone. It may be specific to my instrument.

Take Away: This piece has the potential to ruin a quiet soiree or to give a sonic shiv to the ear drum of a volume obsessed guitar player. The choice is up to the player, but as a tool of auditory projection this mouthpiece can’t be beaten for the money. It’s cheap, loud, and not for the faint of heart. For the bari player playing mostly un-mic’d gigs this piece is just what they need.

*** UPDATE ***
After spending more time with the mouthpiece  I think it can be played with more control and at volumes slightly less annoying than a 747 at takeoff. With that said the tone and timbre of this piece isn’t as nuanced at lower volumes as you would get from a lower or more rollover type baffle. I still think it is a must have in the case of every bari player who plays live un-mic’d gigs.

Please feel free to share your comments on my post or your opinion the piece being reviewed.

*** UPDATE #2 ***

I recently got a chance to spend a lot more time with a new Metalite M9. What a difference the M9 is when compared to the M7. Reeds that played well on the M7 played great on the M9. The tone was better on the M9 and the responsive was also considerably better. All in all it’s a better piece than either M7 I had tried. Arguably the newer vintage of the M9 could mean that Rico had improved the overall quality of the mouthpiece since my last M7.  I recommend owning an M9 over the M7 if you can adapt to the larger tip opening.

www.mattotto.org

All too often today it feels like everyone is out to make a dollar any and every way they can. Many expert players have started lesson sites to earn a supplemental income. While I don’t see this as a bad thing, I do see some sites using aggressive marketing techniques to gain subscribers. To this day I still receive emails promising information and techniques only to follow the link to a subscriber’s only page. I won’t mention this great players site because it is indeed full of great insight and a wealth of personal experience but I don’t like being baited into following a link only to discover you can’t’ get any information without subscribing. But I digress, there is a site run by a great player and a studious teacher, MattOtto.org.

Matt’s videos have quite a following on YouTube and over the course of 63 (at this time) he offers lessons on everything from scales to II-V-I changes and lots of things in between. The real value to me is in not hearing the fluff  or the pleasantries. Matt kicks off the lessons with an example of what he intends to teach you, gives the basics of the lesson then plays the lesson at practice speeds. He doesn’t just play a sample or a single line, no, he plays the entire lesson. Matt’s lessons are brief and contain only what you need for that lesson. On the website you can find pdf’s of each exercise and links to the individual YouTube lesson.

Matt’s lessons work well with direction from a private teacher or if you are a private lesson teacher then his lessons can serve as a great jumping off point. In the end, as with any instruction, you get out of it only what you put into it. The more time you spend in the shed with his lessons the more the material will take a place in your improvisation vocabulary. His lesson #49 Dominant-7sus4 is my current project.

One of the best things about his site is that he offers all of this information for nothing more than continued support and if you feel moved then a donation. Which is a good idea if you would like to see well-crafted additional lessons from Matt?

TAKE AWAY: I would advise everyone add this site to your regular studies list and to please make a donation or buy one of his books.

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.

Lineup:
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:
 Traverse

*** 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. 

If you are like me in any capacity then you have spent some quality time transposing solos throughout your musical life. Be it an Adams lick, Miles riff, or a Coltrane snippet, you’ve  knuckled down and set your mind to getting inside of your chosen artists brain and extracting that genius for your own use. Of course some snippets are easier to transcribe than others and at time I have found myself looking for a transcription to compare my own to. On many an ocassion this search has lead me to CharlesMcNeal.com.

Mr. Mcneal is a prolific and talented performer and transcriber and has chosen to share his transcriptions with all of the internet world. This is no small gift when  you examine the over 300 transcriptions on his site and new transcriptions being added often. There is plenty of material to keep any musician busy and learning.  Aside from transcriptions he also has 2 pdf ebooks which have helped me in improving my facility and  resolving V to I chords. The ebooks can be found on his site under ebooks.

If you are unfamiliar with Charles McNeal here is the a touch of his performing history from his website.

Charles has performed, recorded and/or toured with: John Faddis, Wynton Marsalis, Leslie Drayton, McCoy Tyner, Ray Obiedo, Dave Garabaldi, RAD, Brenda Boykin, Claire Dee, Lavay Smith and the Red Hot Skillet Lickers, Barbara Morrison, Barbara Dennerlein, Jr. Mance, Bruce Forman, Mark Elf, Roberta Flack, The Temptations, Ollie Woodson, Norman Conners, Jean Carne, Curtis Olson, Peter Horvath, Jaz Sawyer, Boz Scaggs, Nicolas Bearde…” 

I would encourage visitors to donate to his site as an incentive  to keeping this resource available to all who would like to use it. 

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.

Like many saxophone players born before the 1997 I had a fascination with Michael Brecker. His contemporary tone seemed to fit into any genre he played and his humble nature made him seem most approachable. I would listen to anything of his I could get my hands on via taped radio performances or shared albums. I enjoyed just listening to him play, there was an energy and mood in his playing that was hard to match.

Through out the years my private lesson teachers would share interviews he had done for the various magazines and on various TV programs. His insight would eventually change they way I viewed my playing. Just knowing that Brecker did not instantly assimilate new ideas into his playing made the fact that I was struggling to add new ideas feel more normal. Also knowing that during his early days Brecker admitted to being a tad bit lazy with practicing, just like me. This took the mysticism out of the musical god and made him more like everyone else. The candid way he approached his interviews made me admire him as a musician and a person. What other top level musicians admit to not being as diligent at practicing as they know they should be? None that I know of. Linked here is one of my favorite workshops Brecker did as a much younger man than most of us remember.

Part of why I bring this video selection to the front is that at one point in this workshop he explains that the player should play what works for them and not what his/her idol plays on. We should all strive to play what works for us as individuals and not follow the mouthpiece fad of the day. The man was a trend setter and a humble person.

Michael Brecker at North Texas State University in the Spring of 1984


Directs links below:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Side Note: In case you missed it he is playing a “Selmer Saxophone”, Dukoff D9 with LaVoz Medium reeds.

 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***

Quick update: Amazon and the Us post have been working hard to bring me new material to listen to and share. The first album is Jim Hartog’s 1989 release “From here to there”.  The next album is The Brian Landrus Quartet’s 2011 release “Traverse”. I won’t lie, I am excited to spend quality time with this recording as I am a bit musically smitten with Brian Landrus’s tone and swing. The third album is Adam Schroeder’s 2010 release “A handful of stars”. Sadly I am not sure that I will be able to start listening to this album until next month but I am looking forward to it. This album has a fantastic rhythm section made up of drums, bass and guitar. This should make for a compact and focused sounding quartet when paired with Schroeder’s baritone. 

Be on the lookout and if you have any recordings that you think I would like please comment or email and let me know.