Innovation at Work – Consortium Works: Solo Saxophone

In 2018, Canadian saxophonist Samantha Etchegary and composer Andrew Noseworthy launched a Solo Saxophone Commissioning Consortium. Five composers, varied in background and style, were each commissioned to compose a piece for solo saxophone with electronics or piano accompaniment, or unaccompanied, and their efforts were supported by a consortium of 46 members who received ongoing updates, scores and materials for all five new pieces, and acknowledgement. Consortium Works: Solo Saxophone, released on August 7, 2020 on People Places Records, is the result of this fruitful enterprise, representing the premiere recordings of five new works. The featured composers are a young and talented group of artists from the United States and Canada, including saxophonists-composers Shelley Washington, Andrew Koss, and Anna Meadors, as well as composers James Lowrie and Andrew Noseworthy.

The disc opens with Anna Meadors’ Gray Stone, Green Garden, performed by Robert Hess. This work for alto or baritone solo saxophone, inspired by Italo Calvino’s “Without Colors,” is sonically varied throughout, making use of the instrument’s large range and capabilities. Quick passages in the upper register are punctuated by low-pitched growls, creating a sense of dialogue and gravitas that belie the small forces.

Anna Meadors--Photo courtesy

Anna Meadors–Photo courtesy

Andrew Noseworthy’s Pull Up is a piece for soprano or tenor sax and electronics, performed by Greg Bruce. The sax’s fluid, unpredictable, and ever-shifting line has an improvisatory feel. Sustained notes and trills fall off into short bursts of sound, bolstered by a robust electronic track featuring vocalizations and percussive interjections over sustained chords. Engaging as it is in audio format, you can also view the official music video–a colorful, surrealist adventure created by Theo Woodward.

Over the faint pulse of a sine wave track, a soft, languid melody emerges in Andrew Koss’ attractive piece, in the wind it goes for tenor or soprano sax. Ascending and descending fifths performed senza vibrato by the saxophonist-composer are reminiscent of a hunting call that quickly unfolds into a tender tune. Repeated fragments come together and expand subtly, fall away, and reemerge, finally crescendoing into virtuosic runs that reach a climax less than one minute from the end of the piece.

Two live performances of James Lowrie’s Quick Time Event: NEXT, an open score game piece, appear on the disc. The first is performed by Clay Steiner, and the second by Jeffrey Leung. Lowrie’s writing is dynamic and demanding, requiring a quick shift from one musical mood or technique to another.

ShelleyShelley Washington--Photo by Peter Yankowsky Washington

Shelley Washington–Photo by Peter Yankowsky

Composer, multi-instrumentalist, and vocalist Shelly Washington is used to pushing the envelope, blurring the lines of style and genre into one that is both disarmingly unique and appealing. Black Mary for alto or baritone saxophone embodies this approach. The piece opens with a bang–literally. Foot stomps punctuate the energetic bursts of melody (performed with aplomb on baritone saxophone by Jeffrey Leung), and grow to a fever pitch in the upper extremes of the instrument–at one point evoking the shredding of an electric guitar. A brief interlude is followed by a return of the rhythmic opening theme, and the piece ends just as boldly as it began. Innovative and striking, you will want to listen to this track again and again.

Consortium Works: Solo Saxophone is an impressive album showcasing some exceptional writing for four types of saxophones–baritone, tenor, alto, and soprano–by a talented and diverse group of young composers. These five new works offer refreshing new fare for an instrument whose repertoire is, as the composers note, “underdeveloped.” Saxophonists will want to purchase the “PDF Score + Digital Album” bundle, which offers them unlimited streaming of the disc along with a score of their choice from the disc. Warning: it may be tough to select just one!


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