CD Reviews by Peter Hales - 3:
Prose and CONNversations:
Jazz standards featuring the Conn-O-Sax
By Rob Verdi
Prose and CONNversations: Jazz standards featuring the Conn-O-Sax. By Rob
Currently only available from Rob Verdi directly at rjverdi-at-aol.com. May
soon be available at www.sidestreetstrutters.com.
Audio sample may soon be available on Mr. Verdi's website or my own
Total CD playing time: 67:20
RJ Verdi (2003)
How I got the CD: Freebie from Mr. Verdi
Overall impression: A much lighter CD than the ones I've
reviewed here. Good as background music or as an introductory CD for people
just getting into the saxophone. A “must buy” for folks that are into the Conn-O-Sax
or other odd saxophones.
What this CD is: Primarily a set of quartets (sax, drums,
piano and bass) showcasing the rare Conn-O-Sax, an F alto instrument produced
What I liked most: Slower ballads featuring the Conn-O-Sax
without heavy accompaniment, such as the introduction to “Autumn Leaves” (J.
Mercer) and “My One and Only
Love” (G. Wood and R. Mellin). My wife, a very good Eb alto player, particularly
enjoyed both he arrangement and playing on “When You Wish Upon a Star” (N.
Washington, L. Harline; arr. R. Stiers).
What I liked least: Faster selections; balance of accompaniment;
Commentary: This CD is a feature for the Conn-O-Sax that I had been looking
forward to for since Mr. Verdi mentioned to me almost two years ago that he
was planning on recording a CD featuring either the majestic Eb
contrabass or the Conn-O-Sax, primarily because there are very few recordings that have
either instrument on them at all, let alone feature them. I look forward to
listening to his contrabass offering!
Historically, A. Sax originally wanted two lines of saxophone: a Bb
and Eb line that would be used for military bands and a C and F line that would
be used for orchestral settings. Jazz really isn't either orchestral or military,
so it's interesting to hear how the Conn-O-Sax, the ostensibly orchestral instrument,
sounds in a jazz setting.
In my opinion, sometimes good, sometimes not.
On the slower pieces on this CD, you get to really hear some of the different
colors in the Conn-O-Sax's tone. While Mr. Verdi's technique makes the horn
sound more like a sax than a double-reed instrument (the Conn ad included in
the CD's liner notes that the Conn-O-Sax “Sounds like an English horn”) – the
reverse of the sound that Dr. Cohen has on his CD – you can hear that the sound
is at least a bit unlike that of your standard Eb alto. In Mr. Verdi's case,
the tone is like a Bb soprano crossed with an Eb alto, possibly leaning more
toward soprano. Considering that Conn 's other F offering was the F Mezzo-Soprano,
I think this tone is definitely “valid” for this instrument, but I liked Dr.
Cohen's tone much more. Additionally, Contrabass.com has some snippets of the
Heckelphone and the tone is closer to Dr. Cohen's.
On the faster pieces on this CD, Mr. Verdi's tone crosses much farther into
the soprano range and was too bright for my taste. Additionally, it sounds
like Mr. Verdi had a difficult time controlling the lower range of the instrument
and “warbles” a bit down there (e.g. “All the Things You Are”, “Caravan”).
Also, I tend to think that some of the recordings bury the Conn-O-Sax under
heavy drums and piano. That was annoying, especially when I care more about
the sax than the accompaniment! Additionally, when I listened to the CD again
just for the accompaniment, I found that the bass not very well miked: I heard
a lot of “slap” from the strings, but sometimes the actual notes were very
hard to hear. This latter problem was repeated off-and-on throughout the CD
and was evident on all my audio systems (two different cars with “upgraded” audio,
Sony boom-box, and a PC with high-end Harman/Kardon speakers).
In conclusion, if I hadn't been given this CD, I would have definitely bought
it anyhow, just because it's one of the few that features the Conn-O-Sax.
The ballads are rather pleasant and do showcase the Conn-O-Sax quite nicely.
The faster pieces are OK, but showcase Mr. Verdi's virtuosity more than the
horns real strength: its tone.