WSC Day 5 (C’est tout!)

Things are winding down. And it was a nice, fun way to end.  A special thanks to my compatriot, composer/player Glen Gillis, for restoring my faith in the eleventh hour.  I’ll get to that shortly.

At 11:30am I went to German jazz saxophonist Nicole Johanntgen’s presentation.  She has taken a new direction in her playing, going solo and adding an electronics set-up and this was her first formal presentation.  It really intrigued me, since I’m interested in doing so myself (among other things). “Everything worked!” she exclaimed.  And so it did.  It went off without a hitch and she sounded awesome.  I spoke to her afterward, talking shop.  She encouraged us to “network” so I took her up on it.  She gave me her CD, too!  We arranged to meet at another show a couple hours later to chat some more.  We’ll keep in touch and exchange notes on this new area of solo jazz/electronics exploration.

At 1:00pm I went to see a recital by Koplant No, a jazz trio from the USA.  “Genre-defying, cinematic electro jazz” was how they described themselves in the program.  And this pretty much summed it up.  Fantastic stuff!  Extremely groovy – I liked the drummer’s occasional forays into a breakbeat style, for example – and very melodic.  I loved their tunes, actually.  Very smooth and very original.  Lots of interesting textures and contrasts, too.  I hope these young guys stay together and continue producing stuff.

At 2:15pm I went to a presentation by soprano sax soloist Shirley Diamond (from the USA).  I wasn’t blown away by her playing – like I have been with others, repeatedly – but her first piece was interesting enough.  In it she played along to a recorded track of another solo soprano saxophone.  The piece had a very distinct “Middle Eastern” vibe to it (or something like that) – it sounded quite exotic.  I questioned the aesthetic choice of the track since I think the piece could be an acoustic duo (ie. there was nothing especially “electroacoustic” about the track). Her second piece was excellent though.  It was in several movements, which she quickly keyed up at her laptop.  These sounds were very interesting (and also rhythmic! yay!!)  and could only have been produced electronically and/or with a computer.  Also, there was more idiomatic use of the stereo space.  I think Ms. Diamond might have had a problem with her horn, especially evident in the first piece, with some keys leaking or something (judging by a couple tonal issues, when fingerings didn’t speak properly).  She also seemed to be somewhat pissed off or annoyed and this most likely could’ve been as a result of the problem.  (I’d certainly feel that way, too).

At 3:00pm I went to the Spanish Constelacion Quartet playing some Spanish premieres of electroacoustic works.  What can I say but I’ve described this kind of music a bunch of times.  In this case it was interesting enough and the playing superb.  I don’t think the music reached distressingly loud volumes this time – bonus.  But yeah, nothing too profound compositionally-speaking.

Then came Glen Gillis, a professor at the University of Saskatchewan..  This gentleman can wail.  Playing his own compositions, he first presented a piece with piano called Fantasia. It was a very exciting, dynamic and stylistically diverse piece in several connected sections.  The two pieces that followed featured accompaniment by a makeshift didgeridoo (made out of special pipe, the same kind used for home sewer systems).  The second piece, in particular was very interesting, with the cool electronic textures.  What made me the most happiest, all in all, was the Mr. Gillis, throughout the whole show, included all the fancy extended techniques on the horn, but he did so tastefully.  Most importantly, he did not forget how beautiful and how colourful and how dynamic the saxophone is when played melodically (and rhythmic vigour) – ie. when played the usual way.  Gillis played with passion and with sensitivity and showed that you can have intense moments in electroacoustic pieces without forgetting how to compose for the sounds for which the saxophone was built in the first place.  Thank you!

July 14th – Day 6 – is a National Holiday and there isn’t much on the go, although this is the last official day of the Congress.  There’s a General Assembly meeting open to participants, in which they’ll decide where the 2018 Congress is to be held, among other business I have no idea about.  In the evening there is a big concert in one of the town squares, which I’ll probably check it.  Two giants of the pop sax world, John Helliwell (Supertramp) and Simon Willescroft (Duran Duran) will be playing in a band called Sax Assault.

It has all been very inspiring, if sometimes disconcerting.  I would definitely like to attend as many WSC’s as possible from now on.  I really have my work cut out for me as a re-emerging player with lots of techniques I have to master.

But for now I’m just going to enjoy the city and my last couple days in Strasbourg! It has been a very exciting visit!!!


WSC Day 4

Today was great.  I woke up early, but felt refreshed and ready for more music.  I thought I would pace myself a little better though and look more carefully at my options.

I started at 10:30am with some alto sax/clarinet duo pieces presented by a pair of musicians from the USA.  They played Canfield’s Le Petit Duo, Glaser’s Duo for Clarinet and Alto Saxophone and Etezady’s Glint.  It was something you might hear at an advanced university student recital – at least it was reminiscent of things I used to hear back in the day.  The playing was brilliant and the pieces all accessible yet unpredictable.  Just what I was looking for.

Next up was a double bill by students from the New England Conservatory.  First the Saxophone Quartet played Capriccio by Felipe Lara, a Brazilian composer.  Again, this was an accessible piece but interesting rhythmically, melodically and in terms of texture.  This piece was followed by a solo premiere of Christian Lauba’s new etude (19th) called Partyta.  Man, this guy gets a lot of “play” for a composer of solo sax pieces!  It was a pretty cool piece, and a little reminder of how much work I have yet to do as a player.

At 12:30pm I went to a concert of new works by French composer Thierry Alla.  He composed a suite of six pieces for each of six different instruments of the saxophone family, including two with electronics.  The saxophonists all looked to be about university age but wow could they ever play.  (I’m so behind!).  This was music more along the lines of what I’ve been hearing a lot but the pieces were well-composed as well as played.  I enjoyed it.

At 1:00pm I went to a show by Honduran saxophonist Ariel Lagos with his guitarist and drummer/percussionist partners.  This music was refreshingly along the jazz and worldbeat lines.  Lagos played with a smooth mellow tone in music that seamlessly blended funk, latin rhythms and swing.  It was melodic and groovy and obviously heartfelt.  The amplified nylon strings were a welcomed variation on the usual jazz guitar.

I went from the main venue into the city to take in an outdoor show featuring more fantastic latin music.  It was presented by Orquestra Mi Sol based out of Paris.  I’m not sure what the group had to do with the WSC maybe except that the leader played soprano sax once or twice.  This was a large mixed group with lots of your standard jazz/latin band horns and rhythm section but with the inclusion of clarinets, flutes and euphoniums.  It was also conspicuous for the absence of guitar and piano.  Great charts!  (And I was grateful for the emerging cloud cover).

Back at the main venue after a bit of a break (and a fantastic sandwich bought near Notre Dame Cathedral), I attended a concert presented by French saxophonist and teacher Jean-Michel Goury.  I really wish I could say I enjoyed this but endured it is more like it.  I think at another time I would’ve appreciated most of it but at this point I’m done with this kind of music – see yesterday’s post.  Or see below, actually.

It seems like to be a respectable composer of new music for saxophone you have to include the following elements: seemingly random slap-tongue used to access (which is too bad because it’s a cool sound), blaring and honking multi-phonics also used to access (and not like the tasteful chords they can sound like), and screeching altissimo also used to access.  In fact, “access” is probably key to the whole mess.  It’s not just these rackets that all-too-often reach painful decibel levels (is there any NEED?) but the absence of contrast.  These kinds of techniques and gestures may technically be varied – there are lots of ways to create strident multi-phonics, for example –  but the overall result in terms of composition is much like a ‘B movie’ where you know what’s going to happen after the first couple scenes OR like a paperback crime novel – once you’ve been through one you’ve pretty much been through them all.

I was going to attend a “crossover” concert in the auditorium, which looked very interesting in the program, but there was too long a line-up and I was pretty much done after the last show.


WSC Day 3

The best thing I heard all day was the first thing I heard.  French composer Karol Beffa presented a piece Octopus (?) by the Ensemble Oct’opus (I think – the program wasn’t clear and the proceedings were all in French).  But what a cool piece!  It was for 10 saxophonists so why it was all called “Octopus” was beyond me.  The piece was pretty much along the ‘post-minimal’ vein with lots of repeated, but varied figures that built in intensity, including a gradual accelerando and crescendo.

But then I pretty much burnt out on the rest of day’s music.  Following the first session, I attended a premiere of Canadian composer Nicolas Scherzinger’s Three Very Mad Tenors, featuring three tenor saxophonists, including Vancouver’s Julia Nolan, and computer-generated sounds.  I thought this was a fairly cool piece.  The tiredness was setting in though.

I guess the thing I’m finding most is that what I’ve heard at the Congress so far is by far dominated by music that could be characterized as textural, gestural and relying a lot on highly repetitive strident sounds or “noise”.  I’m totally okay with these approaches but when it’s pretty much all you hear, then it gets a bit old.

I was excited to attend a 1:30pm concert in which two ensembles, Proxima Centauri and Strasbourg Linea, would collaborate to present a total of eight new premieres (over two shows) of works by international composers for solo saxophone and a chamber ensemble of varying instrumentation.  It got off to a really bad start.  Honestly.  I didn’t even clap for the first piece.  And I never refrain from clapping!  I don’t know what it was.  The soloist promised something awesome because his first note was a perfect crescendo from nothing but then it sounded like he played the whole piece out of tune or something.  Or maybe it was the French horn player who sounded out of tune.  In fact, it sounded as if there were multiple keys going on simultaneously.  Again, I’m not opposed to this technique but to hear eight minutes of it… no thanks.  To top it all off, although the conductor was conducting in a pulse for the most part, it was impossible to feel a beat.  AGAIN, this is okay for a while, since it really builds tension.  BUT… well, you get my drift.  The second piece had a lot of redeeming qualities, not the least of which was the musicians playing in the same ball park, so to speak.  Also, the soloist was an amazing player.  Less of the noise stuff – though there were some multiphonics – it just seemed like it was tasteful.  I didn’t like the third piece much.  Way too much repetition!  The fourth piece was quite cool.  There was a lot of noise but there were also some beats and grooves.  And there were some interesting electronic parts added to the mix.  By this time though I was getting really tired.

I went back for a second dose at 4:00pm.  This half I didn’t much like at all.  Just more of the same noise-noise-hack-hack-slap tongue bullshit.  I applauded all their efforts but I just became sick of it.  Where’s the melodies? Where’s the interesting but trackable (and feel-able) rhythms?  Where are the interesting harmonies?  Because I don’t want humdrum classical triad crap either.  I want some musical meat.  But this was way too much for me and I was bummed out after. Truly.  Remember I’ve heard three days worth of this kind of stuff, among other and better things, of course.  Is this where contemporary music is?  Do I have to write this shit to survive?

Don’t get me wrong.  We do some crazy stuff in the untitled improv group.  I like to invoke chaos from time to time.  But there’s gotta be a balance.  In most of the pieces, I heard, there is no balance.  It’s as if I directed each member of an ensemble to play a different, crazy improvised figure and keep doing it for a whole piece.  Anyway, I’ll stop ranting now.

WSC Day 2

Started with a double sax quartet bill at 11:15.  Two quartets from Montreal: Nelligan and Saxologie.  I think the Saxologie quartet was the younger of the two. I particularly enjoyed their rendition of Denis Gougoen’s Quatre Inventions, which I’d like to hear again and perhaps even practice in a quartet setting.

At 12:30pm I attended an electroacoustic recital entitled “The Unvoiced Saxophone” by French player Don-Paul Kahl.  Both pieces, Sikuri 1 and Untitled by Juan Arroyo and Daniel Cabanzo respectively featured some pretty neat sounds, acoustic and processed, and lively, polished playing of extended techniques by Kahl.

At 1:00pm there was more French electroacoustic music, but this of a different sort by trio Nox.3.  Imagine Thelonious Monk playing the music of Herbie Hancock and David Sanborn on a processed piano with some Ornette Coleman/free jazz flavours added, then you can approximate the music of this exciting young group led my saxophonist Remi Fox.

I attended a recital by Trio Senzoku (from Japan) at 1:30.  I enjoyed their soprano-tenor-piano music.  The soprano player, in particular, really stood out as musical and virtuosic.  They played commissioned pieces by Takehiko Yamada and Lionel Rokita.  Their flashy, “salon-esque” encore piece was too muscially ditsy for my taste.  Most people seemed to like it, and it was certainly played very well – I could just as soon as done without it.

After a break, I went to “Drax:Saxophone Percussion Duo Recital” presented by two professors from the University of Missouri.  I really like this combination of instruments and the players presented two very engaging new pieces: Askell Masson’s Glacier and Jose Martinez’s They Tried to Bury Us; They Didn’t Know we Were Seeds.

Then I went to a cool “Sax and Strings” concert featuring various groups (of international players) but centered around the participation of the Ephemere string quartet.  The first portion consisted of some classical pieces which were interesting enough but nothing too outstanding.  It was the jazz portion though that started with two compositions by bassist Diego Imbert that was really the highlight of the day for me.  The only drawback is that the strings should have been amplified.  Once you add a drum kit and several blazing horns, it becomes too much for a string quartet to compete with.  However, there was just so much stellar playing/soloing from all the sax players, among whom is my new friend (just kidding) Sylvain Beuf and long-tome associate (again, simple b.s.-ing) Jerry Bergonzi.

For my final session I attended “Music For Third Millenium (sic)” presented by The Sax-Ensemble from Spain.  I enjoyed this music, although it was getting to be too taxing for me by that time in the day.  I liked the ensemble of up to eight saxophones and two percussionists.  Apparently they are “the most prestigious contemporary music group of Spain.” Cool stuff!

I decided to take it easy in the evening, although I seriously considered going to more stuff.  It’s a lot to take in, especially when you’re battling jet lag.

It’s amazing how much stuff I’m not able to get to though only because I’m sadly limited to only one place at a time.  There are 450 events crammed in to these six days!  It’s hard to even know what to attend a lot of the time.  Oh well.  I’m so grateful to be here.  And someday I will be presenting something.

WSC Day 1

I’m so stoked to be in Strasbourg, France for the 17th World Saxophone Congress “SaxOpen”!!!

Day 1 got off to a bit of a late start for me because I took an inadvertently extended nap after breakfast. oops!

I managed to get to the main venue in time for a 4:00pm show by jazz composer/saxophonist Eric Seva (from France) with two of his groups. The first half-hour featured an ensemble of five saxes and acoustic bass; the second a quartet of bari or soprano sax, trombone, bass and drums.  Seva played sopranino on one piece – awesome! It was the first time I heard it played in a solo/jazz context.  It was all a stellar blend of various jazz and classical styles.  I also appreciated the extended compositional forms and varying ensemble textures.

At 5:00pm I checked out sax and electronics duo (from the USA) in a short concert (30min) featuring Nick Zoulek on alto sax (excellent tone and circular breathing!) and Josh Simmons on laptop. Lots of cool repeated licks and grooves with processed sounds and layered atmospheric stuff.

At 6:00pm I checked out some more fantastic jazz by the Sylvain Beuf Trio (also from France).  What an amazing tone and fluidity on both the tenor and soprano saxes!  Great compositions, too, including some from the bass player Diego Imbert.  Franck Agulhorn played wonderfully on the drums.

The opening evening concert at 8:30pm featured the Strasbourg Philharmonic with a whole host of international soloists premiering five pieces for saxophone and orchestra.  I was just blown away by it all.  I can’t wait to hear these pieces again and share some links on Aural Fibre.

At one point in the concert I thought that it would hardly be worth it to come almost halfway around the world for one day of music – albeit it’s pretty cool seeing Strasbourg as a part of it – but after hearing all this awesome music today I’d question that idea!