Brian Sacawa’s American Voices makes an excellent case for Sacawa’s skill as a player, but it also provides insight to the wide variety of options that composers are making available to artists of his caliber and specially developed talents. Rest assured, with players like Brian Sacawa on the scene, guys like John Harle should be running scared.
Sounds Like NowA blog by saxophonist Brian Sacawa
Archive for August, 2007
I got a chance to redeem myself at the Highway to Heaven Hill Climb this past Saturday after having to abandon a completely disappointing Tour de Christiana the weekend prior due to a lingering respiratory infection and an anomalous knee flare up. I like riding up hills, especially steep ones, so I was excited for this event. I’d done my hill sprint workout on the lower (and steepest) slopes of the course last week so I had an idea of what was in store and what kind of watts I might be able to push and sustain up that section in order to finish strong. Right out of the blocks I tried to ride a bit conservatively, but was surprised to see the watts I was cranking out were actaully what I was pushing at the end of my 1-minute hill sprints a few days earlier. Mildly concerning, but I felt good so I went with it. This course was about power, but also about being smart with your gearing, so when I couldn’t shift into my big ring after the first steep pitch, I probably lost a second or two. Luckily, I was able to shift up for the last 400 meters and have a good dig to the line. If it was redemption I was after, I got it. When the results were posted, I took 2nd place.
Rob Deemer, the venerable host of The Composer Next Door radio program informs me that he’ll be replaying the program that I was featured on a few months ago. In case you missed it the first time, check it out tomorrow at 4 p.m.
This year’s birthday will certainly be one to remember. Nevermind that I’m turning 30. I’ll be celebrating this October 4th at the Gallerie Icosahedron in TriBeCa with a concert as part of VIM: TriBeCa, a series curated by pianist Kimball Gallagher and composer Judd Greenstein. On offer on the first half of the program will be music by David T. Little, Michael Djupstrom, and the premiere of a new arrangement of Judd’s piece A Moment of Clarity. Dubble8 will join me on the second half of the program, when Hybrid Groove Project will form like Voltron to pass out samples of what we’ve been cooking up in the lab all summer long. Maybe I’ll bill this show as the official CD release party for the album since the quest for an earlier party date at some big place in the East Village has pretty much ended. Birthday, concert, CD release party, wedding. I can multitask.
Anyway, that was a pretty big setup for the real subject of this post: the deceptive difficulty of A Moment of Clarity. But first, a little background on how this arrangement came to be. As I was trolling the internet one night looking for the next big thing, I actually found it. (And if you were wondering, as I wrote that last sentence I did, in fact, successfully resist the urge to make a horrible pun with the name of the piece as it related to the feeling I had upon discovering the work.) It was a piece that Judd had written for flute and piano. I was actually so taken with the composition (and the lovely performance given by Alex Sopp and Michael Mizrahi) that I listened to the piece obsessively for the next couple of hours. And then on my iPod before going to bed. And in the car during the next morning’s commute. That’s when I emailed Judd asking him if he’d be game for doing an arrangement of the piece for soprano sax and piano. I was, of course, thrilled that he agreed.
I knew Clarity would be quite a challenge on soprano due to the extreme register demands. Yet I was excited to be the catalyst for getting a new piece into the repertoire that would exploit the soprano’s altissimo range tastefully, tunefully, and not just for show as some recent compositions have been prone to do. In other words, I wanted to push the envelope but without the piece doing the pushing being gimmicky or ego-driven. While most of the altissimo was within range and playable, there were a couple of measures that needed to be changed completelyâ€”an altissimo E may be possible on soprano, but it is certainly not desirable. Yet there’s still a lot of altissimo in the piece. I have to admit that I was also excited for the arrangement because it would
give me an opportunity force me to seriously confront some substantial altissimo on soprano without having to round up three other people to play the Xenakis quartet.
Like the Xenakis quartet, Clarity has a lot of altissimo. But unlike Xenakis, Clarity‘s lines are tuneful and intuitive. (No disrespect to Xenakis.) The fact that you can actually whistle many of the lines in Clarity despite their technical difficulty execution-wise sets up an interesting dilemma. That some of the lines seem so simpleâ€”nursery rhymish, reallyâ€”makes it somewhat dispiriting to practice. In my head I think, This should be so simple!, but the new technical situations in tandem with the extreme register demands belie the phrases’ accessible affect. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. Listen to the first score sample given in this post (performed at a practice tempo about 3/4 of the actual performance tempo). Making that straightforward-sounding lick sound effortless, and not to mention in tune, is complicated by the range. However, I’m not complaining in the least. Clarity is exactly what I was looking forâ€”a new piece that is fun and accessible to the listener and also exciting, challenging, and fun to learn and perform. Compositions like this help us to redefine what our instruments are capable of while at the same time reminding us that a piece needn’t be unconventional or out of bounds to expand those possibilities.
In the words of Aesop Rock, holy smokes! I did my hill sprint workout today on Ilchester Road in Ellicott City, which is the course for this Saturday’s hill climb time trial. It’s only .9 miles long, but it is brutal. The first section, especially, at an 18% gradient. Every competitive cyclist must be somewhat of a masochist. Who in their right mind would subject themselves to such an ordeal?! It’s a silly little race, but I really want to win. Climbing was my specialty during my AZ racing career and I haven’t seen a gradient like this since I was negotiating the back side of Gate’s Pass on a regular basis.
Though it certainly wasn’t a secret, Molly’s revealed herself as the answer to Steve Smith’s little marital puzzle from last week. What, nobody picked up on her slick little hint in last week’s Friday Informer? Read the last sentence with your 20/20 hindsight glasses on.
The wedding excitement has been pretty consuming, but I have been racing my bike. Last Saturday was the Pleasant Valley Road Race out in western Maryland. This was the most brutal race I’ve ever done. The course wasn’t really that tough, but at 100-degrees with humidity, the weather proved to be a huge factor. Mostly though, the weather was simply annoying. So much so that I got a little impatient. It all started about 15 miles into the 42-mile race. Anybody who’s raced Cat4 knows that breaks are never allowed to go. So on the second lap, when a rider was allowed to ride off the front and then seemingly increase his advantage over a few miles it started to seem like the heat might have started to break the field’s will. Still, one rider off the front a break does not make. But when another rider began to bridge up to himâ€”a guy I’d raced with before and knew to be quite strongâ€”I applied my Cat2-level sprint liberally and jumped out of the pack (after politely asking another rider on the front if I could get in front of him). I bridged to the first guy up the road and then together we bridged to the original solo attack. We were three. Cool.
We were able to get out of the field’s sight, which is a huge psychological blow for the field. If they see you dangling in front of them, it’s easy for them to get motivated and pull you back. But if you’re out of sight, you can break their will. This was really early in the race to attempt a break, but I thought if we could build up our advantage enough (and for long enough) that the field would just resign themselves to the fact that we’d made a winning move. We quickly built up a 40-second advantage, but it also became evident that the original instigator was not as strong as the other guy and myself. His pulls were really lameâ€”my power meter confirmed this. Anyhow, it seemed like once we got a time check with our advantage coming down just a bit, the other strong guy kind of decided he didn’t want to contribute any more.
Honestly, I was kind of in a bad mood and decided to completely commit to this reckless break. I managed to stay out front on my own for about 10 miles, but got reeled in by the group, which seemed about 75 riders smaller than when I attacked. I rode along in the bunch for a bit and was just so damn hot that I decided to abandon. This was a first for me. It just wasn’t worth suffering in that heat for another 15 miles. I was much prouder of that DNF than if I’d sat in the entire race and got 10th place. At least I did something in the race. Though my coach said something that made me rethink my decision a little: “You need to let the field get rid of one of the stronger riders, rather than do the job for them.” So I picked up some good advice as well as an infection, which has hampered training this week. And the Tour de Christiana starts tomorrow. But I’ll still be lining up and hoping to contest in spite of it all.