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Pete Hales
Pete Hales

Pete "Saxpics" Hales is the former Moderator of the Sax on the Web Forum, a current columnist for Sax on the Web and is the webmaster and creator of the Vintage Saxophone Gallery website.

Pete's SOTW articles:
SML: The Ongoing Story
A Day in the Life of a Saxophone Historian
Fun with Vintage Saxophones
What is the Best Vintage Saxophone for Me?
Stencils and "Second Line" Models
Designing The Perfect Saxophone
Vintage Saxophones Revisited a CD Review
So Low: Music for Large Saxophones a CD Review

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CD Reviews by Peter Hales - 3:

Prose and CONNversations:

Jazz standards featuring the Conn-O-Sax

By Rob Verdi

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Prose and CONNversations: Jazz standards featuring the Conn-O-Sax. By Rob Verdi.
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 in 1928.

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; tone.

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.

Created: June 6, 2004
Update: October 20, 2004
© 2004, Harri Rautiainen and respective authors
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