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It's good when an album title tells it like it is. Twelve Tiny Explosions is Seattle tenor saxophonist Neil Welch's third solo saxophone album and consists of a dozen tunes, each of which can be described as an "explosion." Welch's technical ability on his instrument of choice, sheer power and inventive musicality combine to create a challenging, mind-blowing and often rather lovely battery of sounds.
As with his Boxworks (Table & Chairs, 2011), Welch fashions every sound from his tenor sax: at times it's difficult to believe that this single instrument can make so much noise. Innovative recording strategies, such as amplification of the mouthpiece and close-miking of different parts of the horn, enable Welch to use the opening and closing of valves to create rhythms, to use his breathing as punctuation, and to explore every inch of his chosen instrument.
Powerful, intense tunes like "Dedicated To Drummer Chris Icasiano"with its looping, repetitive, squealsand the hard-blowing "Iron Cloud" have the most immediate impact. The impressively high level of energy and commitment which Welch invests in these numbers is impossible to miss. Each of these tracks is a triumph of Welch's respiratory endurance, especially the 11-minute "Mount Index" with the tenor sax sounding like the offspring of a warning klaxon and a foghorn. At his most forceful, as he is here, Welch's explosions are far from tinyhis entire being is directed at the creation and manipulation of sound.
In the long run, however, it's the subtler tracks that hold the greatest appeal. The calm of "Rivers" or the barely controlled release of "Willing Joy"on which it sounds as if he might burst open at any secondnot only contrast with the more powerful numbers, they also give Welch the space to highlight his more nuanced playing. He transmits the emotional tension of "A Nameless Sorrow" and the dreamlike soundscapes of "Places Like Needles, Nevada" and "Vermont" through gentle, controlled playing rather than sheer force.
Twelve Tiny Explosions isn't a completely honest title. There are actually thirteen pieces"Rivers" being listed as a bonus track. Instead, it's a baker's dozen of tiny explosions, each one bursting with energy and life, each one a testament to Welch's very individual vision of the musical possibilities of the tenor saxophone.
Track Listing: A Nameless Sorrow; A Song Cycle For Missouri; A Storm In Nebraska; Willing Joy; Dedicated To Drummer Chris Icasiano; Places Like Needles, Nevada; Vermont; Kansas: Dusk At A Brown Field; Iron Cloud; In Dedication To Artist Meredith Monk; Mount Index; Tiny Explosions; Rivers.