CD Reviews by Peter Hales - 2:
So Low: Music for Large Saxophones
By Jay C. Easton
So Low: Music for Large Saxophones. By Jay C. Easton
Available from Jay Easton's
website, www.jayeaston.com, $16 US
Seven audio samples
available on website
Total CD playing time: 50:51
De Profundis CD001 (2003)
How I got the CD: Christmas gift
Conclusion: If you are really into low saxophones, “modern” music
or the works of Walter S. Hartley, this is definitely the CD for you.
What this CD is: It's exactly what the title suggests: music for large saxophones – in
other words, a recording featuring the Eb baritone, Bb bass, Eb contrabass
and Bb subcontrabass saxophones.
What I liked most: Features the new Bb subcontrabass saxophone from Benedikt
Eppelsheim. Recordings of Carl Anton Wirth's “Dark Flows the River” and Ralph
Vaughn Williams' “Six Studies in English Folksong”.
What I liked least: Some recording problems. Tone.
Commentary: A CD that's fun to listen to AND scares my dog.
I'm either one
of the best or worst folks to review this CD: I played Bb contrabass clarinet
in high school, I've played Bb bass on a few occasions, my main axe was Eb
baritone, I've played a couple of the pieces featured on this CD in the past
AND I went to the same college that Walter S. Hartley taught at. This might
make my review a bit harsher than ususal.
This CD is one of the few that showcases any of the low-end of the saxophone
family -- and this one features the entire low-end, excepting only the almost
non-extant C bass and Eppelsheim's new C contrabass. In that alone, that makes
this CD is very special. The fact that the playing is high quality makes this
CD one to buy.
That doesn't mean that there aren't some things I didn't like. Mr. Easton
has an extremely uniform tone throughout this CD, almost like he's not switching
between four different horns, but he's playing one really big saxophone with
an immense range. In some respects, that's very good form, but it's very difficult
to hear the differences in the tone quality of the horns presented and these
tonal differences are what I look for. This may be because Mr. Easton used
the same mouthpiece on all of the horns (a large-chamber bari mouthpiece can
be used on the Bb bass and some Eb contras do use bari mouthpieces) on this
CD or it may be because the microphone's too close to the horn. I tend to think
more of the latter, as you can hear the keys flapping on several of the pieces,
particularly ones that feature the Bb bass and Eb contra. Also, I had to jack
up the treble on all the stereos I played this CD to make the saxophones sound
brighter and less stuffy.
(Additionally, the liner notes are incorrect: there are a couple reed instruments
that have a lower range than the Bb subcontrabass saxophone, including the
very rare octocontrabass
clarinet [see this
excellent article on Contrabass.com]. Let's just call the Bb subcontra
the lowest reed instrument in “mass production”.)
I do believe that Mr. Easton proves that A. Sax succeeded in producing a reed
instrument that had all the tone of a low clarinet, but several times the power:
if I could play the contrabass clarinet with as much power and volume as Mr.
Easton can on the Bb subcontra, I'd be a soloist. However, the growly sound
and hard-to-distinguish notes of the dueling Bb subcontras on Walter S. Hartley's “Duet
for Basses” does reinforce my opinion that the contras and subcontras really
shouldn't be solo instruments.
On a lighter, and higher, note, the Eb baritone pieces on this CD are quite
well done and I enjoyed them immensely. Of particular note is the excellent
altissimo work in Ralph Vaughn Williams' “Six Studies in English Folksong”.
The people I played this CD for were also fond of the amusing “Austro Polka
op. 5/6” by Werner Schulze as arranged for Eb contra and piano.
In conclusion, this is a very good CD to demonstrate the lower end of the
saxophone family and I highly recommend it. I do suggest playing the baritone
pieces for the unsuspecting public, first.