Years after the saxophone battles had ended, musicians have taken to reenacting them in safe environments, far from the bloodletting bandstands they once occupied. Cutting contests are now cooperative ventures. And, yes Virginia, we all win.
This second release by John O'Gallagher's Axiom band presents his ongoing study of the dynamics of two-horn classical/jazz music. Joining the alto saxophonist is the popular tenor of Tony Malaby. The two musicians, plus bassist John Herbert and drummer Jeff Williams, recorded Axiom (2002) for CIMP Records.
The seemingly free music presented here is actually quite structured. "Unmode is a great example of O'Gallagher's writing. He takes Axiom through three distinct rhythm changes that are more like shifts of mood than time. His quick-paced opening morphs into the languid drawl of horn crawl, before his up-tempo ending kicks in.
Attention here should be on the execution of the music. Malaby's willingness to play the compositions with all attentiveness to the two-horn sounds makes this a special recording, combined with Herbert and Williams' accompaniment. Take a track like "Effluence, with its slowly evolving structure. The symmetrical entrance and exit of the track completes a circle of composition. The gentle song coaxes you into a relaxed mode allowing the power of first John Herbert's solo, then O'Gallagher and Malaby's horns to push you along. Truly muscular music.
Other favorites include the short, probing tango "Rear View, the ballad "DNA, and the four-horn track "Revolving Doors, where overdubbed soprano saxophones match the tenor and alto in a bit of a duel with drummer Jeff Williams. The high-energy piece is surely enough juice for those expecting a bit of bandstand battle.