Baritone Sax Titans: The Big Sax; The King of All Instruments; The Vilnius Implosion
Andreas W. Andersson
Dedicating oneself to the baritone saxophone indicates a big personality, so it's surprising that few jazz stars have emerged on the instrument. Aside from Gerry Mulligan and Pepper Adams (from the mainstream) and John Surman and Hamiet Bluiett (from just outside the mainstream), most of the other players that come to mind are tenor men or altoists first. The releases considered here offer approaches to the instrument as distinctive as the individual musicians doing the playing.
The Big Sax CD is a useful compilation of practitioners from around the world, including Italy, the US, UK, Finland, Russia and Cuba. Solo performance seems to be the essence of baritone playing and the majority of tracks (ranging one to five per artist) are just that, with the remainder adding an accompanist (piano, violin, drums, trumpet, electronics) to form various combinations. Only American Charles Evans is represented in a (pianoless) quartet and Brit George Haslam makes the central statement with pianist Roi Maciaz on "El Puntanito". But the most offbeat and compelling offering comes from Russia's Sergey Letov, who layers vocals and electronic effects over his sax to show what can move the baritone into jazz' 2nd century.
Rarely does a CD come along as intensely personal and ambitious as Charles Evans' The King of All Instruments, which is labeled a "multi-layered solo baritone saxophone" performance. Evans drapes his compositions in overdubs of his own creation on the single horn, with tones ranging from what sounds like a trumpet to electronic buzzing, along with sections of shrill high notes and thunderous low notes all working to create the dissonant, terribly beautiful symphony of Evans' imagination. This CD has precedent in the work of Rahsaan Roland Kirk and in the arrangements of the World Saxophone Quartet, but sounds like the culmination of a life's work. The difference here is that Evans is just getting started.
After Mats Gustafsson perpetrates his usual degree of saxophone abuse on the first cut on the vinyl-only The Vilnius Implosion, a compelling and well-considered hodgepodge of pops, honks, heavy breathing, tongue slaps and primal screams, he tells the audience in a gentle voice that it was a "Swedish ballad". They chuckle. Perhaps nervously, because there's the rest of the concert to come. But Gustafsson holds them rapt and they are receptive to following his imagination as it moves through the baritone, a vintage slide saxophone and an alto fluteophone. Mats isn't much for melody, but the crowd at a space in Vilnius, Lithuania is held in the hands of a master who crafts a statement as carefully and deliberately rendered as a marble sculpture.
Andreas W. Andersson, baritone saxophone in the improvisational trio Plunge, played the first note at the 2007 festival organized by Cumpunctio (the up-and-coming Swedish label responsible for last year's exquisite Elise by Ingebrigt Håker Flaten and Håkon Kornstad). Attendees of the second annual festival were given a copy of the very limited edition EP For Others, a hand-numbered CD housed in interlocking white cardboard, which contributes to its boutique-style class. Andersson's invocation is a lyrical and melodious call to assemble for those who were there when it happened, as it happened.
Tracks and Personnel
The Big Sax
Carlo Actis Dato: Anatra; Tasso; Fenice; Due Bisonti; Talpa; Charles Evans: What; On Tone Yet Part I (Mover's Mood for Annie); On Tone Yet Part II; Micropterus Salmoides; George Haslam: Viejo Lobo; El Puntanito; Thinking Allowed; Mikko Innanen: Adler; Phönix; Merkur; Sergey Letov: Semipalatinsk; LeBorRa; Javier Zalba: Como Fué
The King of All Instruments
Tracks: On Tone Yet? Part I (Mover's Mood for Annie); On Tone Yet? Part II; On Tone Yet? Part III; Junie Part I: the Father (For Clarence Evans); Junie Part II: the Friend (For Clarence Evans); It's the Right Toe, Bro (For David Liebman); A Deya in the Life of a Mulligan; Mother and Others (For Genevieve Evans and Jennifer and Jim Best); What Would of Ives (For Bill Zaccagni)
Personnel: Charles Evans: baritone saxophone
The Vilnius Implosion
Tracks: Untitled (Portrait); I Have Destroyed It Already From Day One; The Death of the Author; The Birth of the Listener; A Walk in the Snow; Untitled (Implosion)
Personnel: Mats Gustafsson : baritone and slide saxophones, alto fluteophone
Tracks: I live and breathe before Your eyes; For others, brothers! For others; Again I tell You: For others!
Personnel: Andreas W. Andersson: baritone saxophone