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Nuclear Whales Saxophone Orchestra: Fathom This: A Retrospective

C. Michael Bailey By

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A Novelty. Saxophone quartets are nothing new. The World Saxophone Quartet is perhaps the most famous and justly so for all of the members, present and past are famous in their own right. Bobby Watson’s 29th Street Saxophone Quartet has made a name for itself on RED Records. These are just two of several. Full saxophone orchestras such as the Nuclear Whales Saxophone Orchestra is a much rarer bird indeed. This orchestra, at this point, is a novelty, but a very good one. And the music this orchestra makes is as fine as any classical wind ensemble.

A Sextet? The Nuclear Whales Saxophone Orchestra is made up of every stripe of saxophone (from top to bottom): sopranino (a specialty of Wessell Anderson), soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, bass, and contrabass (a 6 foot 8 inch behemoth). This combination achieves an expansive six-and-a-half octave range. The result is a warm, welcome sound conveyed through old-time arrangements.

The Songs. This disc is the equivalent of Dieter Klöcker’s Consortium Classicum, playing the American rather than the Western European Canon. The music ranges from Gershwin’s “Summertime” to Ellington’s “Do Nothing...” to Public Domain’s “Amazing Grace”, all played in a way that makes the listener want to wave the Old Glory. Throw in “Also Sprach Zarathustra” and a couple of originals and you have quite a collection. Accumulated from the group’s previous five discs, Fathom This is a well balance retrospective of this unusual band’s output.


Track Listing: Visitors From the Deep; It don

Personnel: Kelley Hart-Jenkins: Alto and Soprano Saxophones; Dale Mills: Tenor Saxophone; Art Springs: Bass Saxophone; Don Stevens: Alto and Contrabass Saxophones; Keven Stewart: Baritone Saxophone; Kristen Strom: Soprano and Alto Saxophones; Ann Stramm Merrell: Baritone Saxophone.

Title: Fathom This: A Retrospective | Year Released: 1999 | Record Label: Whaleco Music

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