COMPOSERS: Arlen,Demersseman,Gershwin,Kern,Legrand et al,Porter,Rodgers,Schwartz,Singelée
ALBUM TITLE: A Tribute to Sax
WORKS: Works by Demersseman, Singelée, Gershwin, Porter, Rodgers, Schwartz, Arlen, Kern, Legrand et al
PERFORMER: Steve Houben (Alto Saxophone), Michel Benita (Double Bass); The Sax Players
These discs come in a slim hardback book containing essays by Jérôme Lejeune and Jon-Pol Schroeder, comprising probably the best concise yet comprehensive historical survey and assessment of Adolphe Sax’s inventions I have read in 50 years of sax addiction. The decision to represent the whole of jazz with just a single musician playing a single member of the family is, therefore, all the more bizarre. The saxophone was just a curiosity until jazz musicians developed a grammar and highly individual styles and sounds.
The greats, from Sidney Bechet to Albert Ayler and beyond, are immediately identifiable from their radically different approaches and sounds. This programme gives no idea of the richness and variety the saxophone is capable of. I intend no criticism of Houben, who is a thoughtful, sensitive player and gives a fine recital, but no one musician can demonstrate the full potential of the instrument as it was realised through the jazz tradition of the last 90 years.
The other disc spotlights pieces by contemporaries of Sax, using original 19th-century instruments. Sax invented the saxophone to provide marching bands with a substitute for strings, and its origins as a compromise are pretty clear from these pieces, diverting and well‑played though they are. Barry Witherden