Wednesday, November 16, 2016


Image result for saxophone muppet


The saxophone is a mighty powerful instrument that a musician must earn the right to use. Most keep it safely behind 'break only in emergency' glass and deploy it only briefly at the end of a final chorus, when nothing else will do.

John Coltrane, in contrast, starts with full intensity and holds its for fifteen captivating minutes in his free-jazz masterpiece, Transition.

John Coltrane died not long after recording that song, but his widow partnered up with one of John Coltrane's fellow saxophonists, Pharoah Sanders, and added the only instrument that can make saxophone more intense: the harp. In her spiritual jazz masterpiece, Journey in Satchidananda, an otherworldy state is vividly conjured.



The sax pervades Jazz, imbues melancholia in blues, provides downright dirtiness in funk and instills aphrodisiac qualities in romantic music from the eighties. But its reach is wider and more profound still:

My first tune is from Ishahn, former corpse painted front-man of the mighty Emperor. The second wave of Scandanavian black metal was pretty intense, but it was only in his solo work where he could push the envelope to truly terrify. Unleashing the sax over blast beats, tremolo riffs and throat shredding rasps is an act of devilishly brutal genius. He doesn't go half arsed and give the saxophonist a single motif or a brief phrase, he allows them to channel their inner evil Albert Ayler. A Grave Inversed from the album After will grab you by the proverbial Brasso'd nuts.

Tune number two comes from the marvellous Acoustic Ladyland. A great British band that took the jazz four piece format, applied attitude and went punk rock. I ended up listening to my three albums on regular rotation for the prior week, with the increasingly impossible task of selecting one song - I  got seriously stuck into them again, which is but one serendipitous side effect of Club. I selected Deckchair from Last Chance Disco that starts out all Stranglers and ends up all Black Flag. Re-unite and make me another album, god damn you!!


Supertramp, The Logical Song

My favourite sax solo in a pop song - the snarler in the middle. Also some poetic fluttering near the end, so don't fade out too soon! Famous for the sound (production) of the solo... nobody back then could figure out the studio wizardry required to get that distinctive sound. Turns out it was recorded in a small bathroom with hard surfaces everywhere and a microphone hanging over the door.


Frank Zappa, Joe's Garage

Classic, though probably best to fade out around 3.40, which is where the song proper ends. I thought of this track because you can hear the word 'saxophone' sung at 1.58, followed by a crazy arrangement of multiple saxes over the next 12 seconds. Zappa's work is filled with tricky arrangements like this that are easy to miss. And he used saxes to good effect on many records; I'm especially fond of the horn work by the Wazoo-era band from 1972.


David Bowie played the saxophone before the saxophone before the saxophone was uncool, and his death on January 10 marked the beginning of a very bad year. The lead off on Black Star -- released two days before and heavy with portent of his imminent demise -- uses the saxophone to subtle and remarkable effect. As it shifts through its movements, the saxophone, played not by Bowie but by Donny McCaslin, serves to unify the parts and also build throughout them, lending an air of strange menace to a song of strange genius.

It's hard to believe that Sheep, Dog and Wolf's Egospect was recorded by a 17 year old, in his bedroom, by himself. These elaborately layered instruments and vocals, set in arrangements that turn on a dime, came from the mind of Daniel McBride, one of the most unassuming people you could ever hope to meet. Even more remarkable, until recently the live show featured only a drummer (disclosure: my nephew Eddie) and Daniel, with a guitar, saxophone and other instruments run through a looping machine. Ablutophobia uses the sax(es) to full effect, working a song about filth and anxiety into a fever pitch.


Saxophone. The third leg of my 'Least Favourite Musical Instrument' trifecta ( Accordion(#2) and Bagpipes(#1), since you were wondering). Unfortunately, like most things people find distasteful, there is an element of morbid fascination in there as well... like videos on removing enormous blackheads (No! Don't! Look!). If nothing else, Music Club forces you to confront your likes and dislikes and one thing I realised was that I didn't really know that much about saxophones... the bagpipes can be irritating as soon as they produce sound... The accordion just doesn't keep very good company sometimes but the saxophone? It's a fairly modern instrument developed in 1840 by the eponymous Adolphe Sax and does pretty much what he designed it to do so what is my problem? I think it's just that I don't 'get' Jazz... lots of people love it, but it's not my thing so it really is just tarred by my antipathy to a genre. Not a very good reason when you think about it so let's give the Sax a chance!

Can't do Jazz... but if you take the same instruments and hop a couple of limbs over on the music tree you get to Ska... or everything Jazz isn't. I have a couple of Ska based albums but they're pretty much standard UK 80's 2-tone and while the sax is there it's subservient to the lyrics... what else is out there now? Lots! The first selection comes from the Venezuelan based Gypsy Ska Orquesta called La Demencia and it lives up to its name with the sax contributing it's fair share. It also has #2 in the trifecta so maybe there will be redemption there as well. The version in the link finishes at 4:32.


The second offering just made me laugh out loud when I saw and heard them. Following on from avoiding songs from the traditional or expected Ska sources (Jamaica or the UK of last century) I came across the Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra. A group of 10 or so Japanese musicians playing a form of music derived from R&B via the melting pot of The Carribean and Thatcher Britain... you can't make this stuff up! This song is called 'Olha pro ceu' and is a collaboration between TSPO (who look like Yakuza) and a Brazillian rapper called Emicida who starts the song in Portuguese and switches to Japanese part way through. A cultural mix'n'match if ever there was...


The saxophone; aka. the sax, old saxamaphone, saxosaurus sax, etcetera. An instrument I know very little about, having never handled, nor probably been within ten feet of one. An instrument I'm not very fond of neither; nothing grinds my gears more than a jazz sax solo. So this theme did stretch me, but also limited my options since the sax has only an occasional place in my playlist.

Béla Fleck & The Flecktones - Zona Mona
I was given Béla Fleck and The Flecktones eighth album, 2000's Outbound, by a friend over ten years ago and I come back to it about annually for a little fix of world jazz music. It's a great album, and won the Grammy for Best Contemporary Jazz Album. I regret I've never delved further into the music of Béla and his group of virtuoso musicians. Béla himself is an incredible banjo player and the saxophonist on this album is Jeff Coffin. The track I've picked is Zona Mona, the most saxaphoney on the album, but I would say is not one of the better tracks. So if you've yet to check out the Flecktones, I recommend listening to more than this one.

Shining - 21st Century Schizoid Man
My second choice is pretty out there, Shining's cover of King Crimson's 21st Century Schizoid Man, which was the last track on their breakthrough album, Blackjazz. As the album title indicates, this band merge black metal with jazz to produce and experimental, avant-garde sound that's definitely take-it-or-leave-it. I by-and-large take this album, although it's not as good as I want it to be. And their follow up is lacking something too. But there are certainly great moments on Blackjazz, and none more weird and sax-trippy than this cover.