June 12, 2015

  • Five Sax: At the Movies

    Five Sax is a group of international saxophone players who formed back in 2011.  The present disc features their own arrangements of a variety of film music.  Obviously not necessarily for purists, the album does feature some great virtuosic performances covering a blend of familiar and less familiar fare.


    The album opens with an interesting idea: a series of themes from classic pirate films from Korngold to Badelt/Zimmer.  The arrangement itself is overall quite good.  The music from Hook and the Korngold (with beautifully-shaped thematic playing here!) seems to fit best for the sound of the group, the punch of the more recent Pirates of the Caribbean adds some nice contrast rhythmically.  Personally, it might have been better placed at the end of the album to help orient the audience better to the overall sound of this music and with the somewhat exciting finale working well with added percussion.


    That said, the inclusion of music by Leroy Shields (1893-1962) will be the greatest find here.  Shields provided music for the Laurel and Hardy films and the ensemble has put together a little “suite” of sorts featuring five incidental pieces from these films (including the signature “Cuckoo” and delightful “Little Dancing Girl”).  The performances here are simply wonderful capturing the spirit of this music and the period quite wonderfully.  The theme from Rota’s score for 81/2 follows (this would have been a great opening track) and is another great highlight of this carnival like atmosphere.


    Next up are three more lyrical choices.  “Gabriel’s Oboe” from The Mission may seem like a bold choice but demonstrates the expressive qualities of the soprano sax.  “Playing Love” (The Legend of 1900) is perhaps one of Morricone’s most masterful underscoring moments and this is an equally touching arrangement which also features pianist Jacek Obstarczyk.  “Married Life” from Up then seems like a very natural choice to flow out of these two pieces and is simply perfect.


    The CD then takes a bit of a left turn musically with a suite from Psycho!  The opening is less harsh, but the knife sequence is perhaps not quite as successful.  What is interesting is that one can hear some of the jazz-like rhythmic ideas of Herrmann’s score more clearly in this setting.  We get to recover a bit with a cover of “Hedwig’s Theme” (with some added percussion aiding the colors) and then an interesting suite of music from Shore’s The Lord of the Rings scores.  The latter is interesting but percussion ideas, while trying to get at the flavor of the music, do not work always as well.  Jazzier and rock influences provide musical contrast for Bono’s theme from Goldeneye, which works well.  Finally, we are in firm jazz territory with selections from Henry Mancini’s The Pink Panther whose original sax solo is among the classic film themes for the instrument.  Here the added percussion and performance is simply spot on!  Three additional musical sequences follow from the 1964 film (“The Village Inn”, “Royal Blue”, and “It Had Better Be Tonight”) and are all excellently chosen for this ensemble.


    Five Sax have put together a really fun album of film music that explores the wide range of their ensemble of saxes.  The choices are performed with a great sense of the music’s original sound often with a real attention to detail and energy that draw you in rather quickly.  Some sequencing aside, the album plays quite well with listeners sure to find something that stands out to them along the way.  At the Movies is thus a fairly successful compilation of film music arrangements with fabulous performances on this wonderful Orlando Records release.