Solo Sax: Time Lapse; Solo (Soprano Saxophone); Whirl of Nothingness

Andrey Henkin By

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Evan Parker
Time Lapse

Paul Dunmall
Solo (Soprano Saxophone)

Paul Flaherty
Whirl of Nothingness
Family Vineyard

Though it sounds like a banal truism, there are as many different approaches to playing solo saxophone as there are people trying. The inherent talents and limitations of each player, coupled with the lack of any formal repertoire (unlike solo piano), make this sub-genre a remarkably iconoclastic one.

Evan Parker is the current master of this form. Since 1975, Parker has created a language for the sax (primarily soprano but also tenor) impossible to duplicate. Even when seeing it up close, as was the case when Parker gave a rare Stateside solo concert at The Stone last month, its density of overtones and harmonics is unfathomable. He has released almost a dozen albums of solo playing but the most recent, Time Lapse, is particularly successful. Years of playing solo have allowed Parker to be highly conceptual. Here, in a series of studio visits between 1996-2001, Parker makes full use of modern overdubbing techniques to augment his already almost impenetrable playing. There are some strict solos, several pieces for stacked saxophones (creating the delicious question of what then is the dominant voice amongst the layers) and even a composition featuring Parker's (previously unknown) organ playing. Parker spaces out his solo releases because they ultimately are his most important contribution to the world of music. And for all their enigmatic qualities, they are the carefully constructed soundtrack of a larger world.

Paul Dunmall too is a solo linguist, but his work heretofore has been applied to the bagpipes. On this live recording from 2005, Dunmall adds his own chapter to the solo soprano sax book. Dunmall as a mujician, though in some artificial sense a part of the world that birthed Evan Parker, is a more obviously emotional player. This slant is only heightened in a live setting, where there is no (or conversely much) room for error. But Dunmall does not seem tentative or unfocused. Across five 'parts', starting off short (under three minutes) and ending lengthy (over 23), Dunmall works like an impressionist painter - dabs here, strokes there, flurries of activity and then moments of deliberate reflection. The album, not only because it is a live document, cannot be appreciated in pieces. It is a cohesive complete work. Solo playing fails when its statements seem disjointed. Dunmall plays with the polished air of a seasoned orator and with his passion too.

Paul Flaherty's solo disc (on alto and tenor), is the middle child of the two (he was born between Parker and Dunmall). This series of eight improvisations were recorded because Flaherty "felt a strong need and his liner notes speak of unburdening. Certainly of the three, Whirl of Nothingness is the most demonstrative. Its techniques are multifaceted - shrieks, wails, swooshes, circular breathing - but its intent is emotional expressiveness. Because it is the result of a single mind conveying pain and anguish, it may be the most difficult listen of the three but its poignant moments are the most easily absorbed.

Tracks and Personnel

Time Lapse

Tracks: Ak-Kok-Deer; Monkey's Fist; Threnody for Steve Lacy; Gees Bend; Those Doggone Dogon; Time Lapse; Pulse and the Circulation of the Blood; Organ Point; The Burden of Time; Alone on a Long Hard Road; Chorus After Alaric 1 or 2 for Gavin Bryars.

Personnel: Evan Parker: saxophone, organ

Solo (Soprano Saxophone)

Tracks: Part 1-6

Personnel: Paul Dunmall: saxophone

Whirl of Nothingness

Tracks: Compassion Lost and Found Again; Blankets Wear the Naked Fear; Firetrance Lonely Heartache Still; Shattered Scenes of Blinding Bursts; Sweetly Danced in Times of Hurtful Pleasure; If You Step Back Far Enough...It'll Be All Right; Monsters Hide in Plain Sight Dark; Waiting to be Lifted onto the Flames.

Personnel: Paul Flaherty: saxophone.


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