This is hysterical. Man, I love Jon Hamm.
Sounds Like NowA blog by saxophonist Brian Sacawa
Archive for Saxophone
There are certain pieces in the saxophone repertoire that I’ve continued to put off learning again and again. Well, it’s not really that I’ve put them off; I’ll take them out semi-annually vowing to dig in, saying to myself that “this is the time I put this to rest, haha!” only to file the music away on the shelf to be confronted another day. (This is also evidenced by the several unfinished drafts of this very post that have accumulated.) It’s a strange relationship I have with a only a few pieces. Tre Pezzi by Giacinto Scelsi is one of them, as is the work currently on my stand and pictured above, Berio’s Sequenza VIIb. The problem is that I hold these works in such high regard that I feel to play them any less than perfectly would be doing them a gross injustice. It sounds neurotic, yes, I concede that, but what stops me from following through with them is that I think that I’ll never play them as well as they
should deserve to be played. Adding to this obsessiveness in the case of the Berio is that there are 6 different fingerings for C# (concert pitch B). What’s the big deal? Well, there’s a B that sounds through the entire work and making sure that all the fingerings are perfectly in tune is quite challenging:
The effect is really cool, but it’s enough to drive an intonation eccentric up a wall. But here it is: I am learning Berio’s Sequenza VIIb. Hopefully by declaring this publically, I’ll be bound to some kind of nebulous ethical agreement in which going back on my word would constitute a serious breach of something. The occasion for my performance of the piece will be revealed when we announce Mobtown Modern’s second season.
American Voices got a nice write-up in the current issue of the Saxophone Journal. Here are a couple choice quotes:
“In performing Piece in the Shape of a Square Brian Sacawa exhibits a strong vibrant sound on saxophone with phrasing and intensity that makes the piece come alive.”
And . . .
All the pieces on this American Voices CD are, at the very least, extremely provocative. Brian Sacawa’s interpretive skills are laudable, and in fact, admirable. American Voices is new music for the saxophone performed by someone who is a master of his instrument.”
Hybrid Groove Project’s been busy in the lab experimenting with ways to expand our live sound. Erik’s augmented his arsenal with a brand new melodica and theremin. And I’ve unearthed the effects pedal that’s been dormant in my closet since some performances of James Tenney’s Saxony a couple years ago. The pedal’s best feature is its ability to record, play back, and loop up to 23 seconds of material. And, even better, after recording the first loop, you can keep adding new layers on top of the original. So I’ve been releasing my inner minimalist recently. Here’s a short 4-part bari sax loop I came up with this weekend based on three 3-bar phrases from HGP’s work in progress a firefly in the belly:
(Hat tip to C-Blizzle for the link.)
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.
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.
The first review of American Voices has appeared on the august website Sequenza21. Here’s a sample: “American Voices is, without doubt, a CD you need. The performances by Mr. Sacawa are amazing and the music selected is equally so. This is music that every sax player you know needs to perform and that every music listener you know needs to hear.” Stop, stop! I’m blushing. Okay, go on!