Since 2018, I’ve had the good fortune of doing some administrative and promotional work for one of the UK’s pre-eminent composers, Brian Elias. If you haven’t come across his work before, a good place to start his is Five Songs to Poems by Irinia Ratushinskya, a monumental work for mezzo-soprano and orchestra, based on the poems of Soviet dissident Irina Ratushinskya – its genesis and reception is a whole post in of itself, which I’ll save for another time.
A couple of years ago, I had been put in touch with a friend of Brian’s who was looking for performers for a charity function. My friend Wynton and I performed some jazz standards for baritone sax and piano, and Brian, intrigued by the sound of the baritone sax, floated the idea of writing a piece for the instrument. I was pleasantly surprised when last year he informed me that he’d been asked to contribute a new work to the Royal Academy of Music’s RAM200 project, which he decided to write for baritone saxophone. I’m very fortunate to be the dedicatee of the work, with the premiere going to my good friend Rob Burton, a current student at the Academy.
I think it’s a wonderful piece and I hope it will find a unique place in the saxophone repertoire. Brian has written brilliantly for the saxophone before, in his ‘Pythikos Nomos’ for alto saxophone and piano, and I’m thrilled to be associated with this new work. Enjoy!
Over the past few years I’ve been lucky to collaborate with a close friend, Ross Koopmans (Ross K) on his debut album Braedalyn. This release has been many years in the making, and my involvement with it has transformed dramatically over the years – from small contributions of crystalline saxophone multiphonics, to clarinet (!), piano, conducting (!!), helping to produce a live version of an early version during our studies at the Royal College of Music with a 12+ member ensemble, and general moral support and advice where I could offer it.
The Picture, formerly known as The Picture Runs its Course, is the third track on the album, and in the end is my most substantial contribution to the album, although its inclusion was anything but pre-ordained. In the summer of 2019, in what felt like an entirely different world, Ross and I shared the bill on a show at Servant Jazz Quarters in Dalston. I opened the set with a performance of James Tenney’s Saxony, and joined Ross for his set, initially set to play some piano and synths. A day or two before the gig, the idea to put a saxophone solo was raised. I was reluctant, for as much as I have long revered the saxophonic sidemen of pop music – Donny McCaslin’s contribution to David Bowie’s Blackstar was a strong reference point for this album at one time – and sought to make my mark on music in this way, I’ve never considered it to be anything more than an aspiration, and certainly not one which my primarily classical training has prepared me for. But I dug up an old Otto Link mouthpiece and reed and hoped for the best on the day, and the result was surprising to both of us – we were both convinced it’d been a flop immediately after (I’ll leave that to listeners to decide), but we were shocked to find that not only was the live recording salvageable and somehow the perfect piece of the puzzle for this track, but also completely impossible for me to replicate in the studio a few days after the show. So the final result is the raw recording from Servant Jazz Quarters, out of an SM57 microphone.
I’ve learned, primarily through this process which I’ve been both tenuously and intensely involved in for as long as I’ve known Ross, that collaboration between close friends is bound to test the relationship between the interested parties – any musician will tell you that the boundary between their personal lives and their creative output is a fragile one. Fortunately, our friendship has survived and I look forward to many future collaborations. Congratulations Ross!
Over the past few weeks, hunkered in my home studio in lockdown, I’ve very much enjoyed putting together this recording of Steve Reich’s New York Counterpoint. Originally written for multi-tracked clarinets and soloist, Susan Fancher’s arrangement for multi-tracked saxophones works wonderfully, and I feel imbues the work with a completely different character.
I first encountered the work as a first-year undergraduate at the University of Toronto, and was a real “gateway drug” into contemporary music for me. I’ve wanted to record and perform the work as a soloist for some time, but the lockdown period is the first real opportunity I’ve had to hone my chops on recording software.