• Jazzy Chamber Pieces For Sax


    Soprano Summit
    Paul Cohen, soprano saxophone.
    Lois Anderson and Allison Brewster Franzetti, piano;
    Kathleen Nester, piccolo
    Ravello Records 8062
    Total Time:  62:05
    Recording:   ****/****
    Performance: ****/****

    In his newest release on Ravello Paul Cohen shifts his attention to works for soprano saxophone.   for this release of rare works for the instrument.  The pieces here are a balance of late 20th Century and more recent compositions by six different composers.

    There are several single-movement works spread throughout the release.  It opens with the jazzy Feathers and Sax (2019) by Amanda Harberg in a work that was originally for flute.  The result here is a Paul Winter-like number with great energy and playfulness serving as a welcoming opening.  Another older work originally for another instrument included here is Grainger’s Arrival Platform Humlet (1906—for viola) in a new transcription for solo soprano sax.  Lessons of the Sky (1985) by Rodney Rogers follows the shorter piece.  Rogers explores motivic development and harmonic shading in a work that also features fine interaction between soloist and piano.  The album closes with a new arrangement of Carlos Franzetti’s Serenata (1948) which features explorations of Latin rhythmic material in a nice jazzy encore to close off this recital.

    Three multi-movement works fill out the album.  John David Lamb’s 1988 Sonata is a three-movement piece whose first movement makes for a fine jazzy connection to the opening work.  An excited central section is bookended by more lyrical material with interesting harmonic ideas that feel almost remorseful.  A lyrical central movement provides some space for reflection in an arabesque-like style.

    The second sonata here comes from Robert Sibbing.  Written in 1973, the piece moves through a variety of emotions connected to loss in the composer’s own life.  The style here is in a Neo-Romantic vein which makes this quite accessible music.  The opening movement is a bit more intense giving way to a gorgeous central movement of reflection.  A sense of joy and playfulness provides a bit of hope in the closing “Allegro Scherzando”.  On a more unusual front, the album includes a trio version of John Scott’s The Gift of Life (2021).  It is an interesting combination of piccolo and soprano/alto sax with piano.  The work’s inception is also based on a tragic loss which makes a programmatic connection to the Sibbing which precedes it.  Here the music intends to celebrate a life cut tragically short across three movements that move from introduction of materials through tragedy, a sense of loss, and then a thanksgiving of joy for life.

    Those who are looking for some very accessible and engaging works for saxophone will find a great deal to revel in here.  Cohen is a master performer and that is on full display throughout all of these pieces that have a great deal of lyrical playing and smatterings of virtuosic display.  The program itself also feels quite intelligently chosen and laid out for listening through each of these unique works.  Both Anderson and Franzetti prove to be fine partners for bringing out the nuances of the music.  Sound is also quite good with a fine balance between soloist and piano imaged well in the sound picture.  Soprano Summit proves to be another excellent release showcasing Paul Cohen and introducing some fine music by lesser-known composers.


  • Reflections for Piano

    A couple of years ago, Navona released a 2-disc set of Australian composer Mark John McEncroe's music on a release titled Reflections and Recollections.  For this fourth volume, Musical Images for Piano (Navona 6391), McEncroe focuses on pieces specifically for piano (the earlier volume were orchestrations of some of his piano pieces).  Pianist Van-Anh Nguyen performs the eight works here.

    This is a relatively laid-back collection of musical meditations often with simple harmony and a Satie-esque like laying out of simple melodic ideas.  Often times the music tends to have a 2-voice contrapuntal style that provides some interest though these ideas tend to shift rather quickly when they do appear.  "For Cecile" is perhaps one of the stronger pieces where the waltz rhythm and structure moves the melodic ideas into interesting harmonic territory.   The pieces are generally cast in a New Age-like classical style that can sometimes be a bit repetitive in its ideas from one work to the other.  Many have a stream-of-conscious feel which can give them a meandering quality that is enhanced when the harmony becomes more interesting.

    Nguyen is quite adept at working her way through these different moments sometimes more impressionistic in sound, other times moving into darker realms.  Harmonic movement can be a bit strange from time to time which leaves some phrases hanging in the air like incomplete, or interrupted thoughts.  The pieces are thus like miniature rhapsodies whose titles provide one possible interpretive window for the listener to engage.

    The current release provides fans of McEncroe's style a good hour of musical backdrops some of which work better than others.