Tour Tested, Honour Approved: A review of Eric Honour’s latest album.

Phantasm is a collection of eleven recent compositions for saxophone and computer, sourced from a call for scores that spanned the globe and yielded more than two-dozen works. Saxophonist and composer Eric Honour took a chosen ten pieces, plus one of his own, out on the road on an 18-date world tour, and subsequently recorded and released in July of 2011 by Ravello Records. The compositions compiled on Phantasm form a diverse collection of electro-acoustic music that covers a rather large spectrum of styles, textures, and timbres. Honour’s own compositional contribution is the title track. In keeping with the eclectic nature of the entire album, Honour’s “Phantasm” explores a broad pallet, moving between pulse-driven tribal rhythms one moment, to something more amorphic and textural in the next.

Honour’s saxophone performances masterfully navigate a wide variety of pieces, ranging from the precise and rhythmically charged athleticism of Christopher Biggs’ “Exterminate Al the Brutes” and Zachary Crockett’s “Fight to Flow Between,” to the nebulous and free form “Whitewater” by Scott McLaughlin. His playing shows great control and sensitivity on Lou Bunk’s quiet and hushed “Luna, ” while also being able to deliver the right amount of coarseness and brashness for D. Edward Davis’ bluesy and folk-inspired “sugar baby.”

The audio quality is exceptionally high on this album, considering that it is currently offered only as a digital release. Along with the digital download, Ravello Records has an interactive website that accompanies the recording, offering a digital booklet, scores for each of the pieces, ringtones, and a desktop wallpaper. These online extras have many pros, with only a couple of cons. The obvious plus to the Ravello site is that digital recordings often make their way to an mp3 player or to a playlist, where listeners are less likely to engage themselves with the music. The site gives the listener the “old-fashioned” experience of thumbing through a CD booklet while following along with the recording. Also, having the scores readily available are a tremendous help for recordings of electro-acoustic music, where it is often difficult or even impossible to separate the soloist from the electronic element. Such is the case for Karlheinz Essl’s “Sequitur VII” or Luigi Ceccarelli’s “Neuromante,”  where Honour sounds as though he is accompanied by several other players.

The only downsides to this particular release, oddly enough, are both the digital booklet and the scores. Not owning a physical copy makes finding out the composer’s names and publication information for each piece a chore, as the only way to find out composer names is to flip through the online booklet. The scores offered on the site have a fairly low resolution, which make following along with the score more of an exercise for testing one’s eyesight than a means for connecting to the musical works.

Overall, this recording and the accompanying website are a great package with exceptional compositions, stellar performances, and a fresh and forward-thinking marketing approach that boad well for digital distribution in the 21st Century.

Eric Honour, Phantasm (Ravello Records, RR7815) – Buy on (digital only)

George Heathco is a composer, electric guitarist, collaborator, and teacher that lives in Houston, Tx with his wife and daughter. You can follow him on twitter:@GeorgeHeathco