Saturday, 5 July 2014

Bringing the tenor saxophone out of the shadows - Speak Now from Matt London

Matt London Speak Now
Speak Now , contemporary music for tenor saxophone; Matt London, David Howard
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 1 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Varied mix of works written for the contemporary classical tenor saxophone

This new disc from the young tenor saxophone player Matt London is designed to showcase the versatility of the modern classical tenor saxophone via series of works specially written for the instrument performed by Matt London on tenor saxophone and David Howard piano, with composer Geoff Eales making a special guest appearance. London showcases a variety of composers with works by London himself, Geoff Eales, Andy Scott, Adam Caird, Cheryl Frances-Hoad, Graham Fitkin, Graham Coatman and Richard Rodney Bennett. Of the nine pieces on the disc, six are world premiere recordings.

Matt London studied at the Royal Northern College of Music with Rob Buckland and Andy Scott, and is currently a doctoral studuent at Brunel University under the supervision of Peter Wiegold and Christopher Fox. London is also the co-founder and lead developer of the Tenor Saxophone Index the comprehensive online database and resource centre funded by the Royal Northern College of Music with international saxophonist and composer Andy Scott.

London and pianist David Howard open the disc with London's piece The Pervasive Force, a work built around the interval F sharp to A flat. It opens with a melancholy jazz influenced keening using the tenor saxophone's timbre at its best. Even in the livelier moments, melancholy remains and jazz is never far away. Geoff Eales' Song For My Mother is an elegant ballad-like piece with a lovely long-breathed melody, with hints of late-night cocktail-lounge jazz.

Andy Scott's My Mountain Top is a very different piece. Here London plays to the accompaniment of a CD which contains a soundtrack of noises like crackling and the poet Lemn Sissay reading his own poem. With London weaving Scott's music round Sissay's words. The result is slightly curious and perhaps your reaction very much depends on how you view Sissay's poem.

Adam Caird's Out of Line reverts to tenor saxophone and piano, with Caird deriving the whole piece from the opening idea. The title refers to the fact that the music functions in sections, with one or other instrument going 'out of line' and changing the texture. The result is full of varied changes of rhythm and texture but with a steady onward impetus. The opening is jagged and somewhat uncomfortable, and throughout the musical material is edgy and rhythmic, very chromatic and still jazz influenced.

Cheryl Frances-Hoad's Sarcanthus is written for solo tenor saxophone, the work is inspired by Amy Johnson's pioneering flight to Australia and was commissioned by Matt London. It starts as a slow, melancholy lament with a wide ranging melodic line. As the piece develops, material becomes more chromatic and rhythmically complex, but then slowly unwinds so that it finishes with a low keening.

London is joined by composer Geoff Eales at the piano for Eales Farewell Patagonia, a piece inspired by the presence of Welsh-speaking settlers in southern Argentina. It is a fabulous tango with Kurt Weill-ish hints in the saxophone melody.

Graham Fitkin's Passing also uses a CD for accompaniment. Fitkin's work was commissioned for the World Tenor Saxophone Consortium in 2004. It pairs London's saxophone with a backing of pulsating drones. The saxophone plays angular, expressive and rather spare phrases. As the piece progresses the drones grow in insistence and intensity whilst the saxophone responds with greater complexity, giving the piece a feeling of growth and progression. The title refers, in the composer's words, to 'the passing of time, the passing of life... passing in a slow motion sort of way too'.

Graham Coatman's Kaito is inspired by the Japanese were the word refers to the ocean (kai) and the stars of soaring (to). Coatman has written a sort of moto perpetuo, but has also taken on board the tendency for Japanese music to not have a constant pulse. So that the work alternates between manic moments and more wistful contemplative ones, with a feeling that the various fragments at the beginning develop and cohere.

The final work on the disc was written in 2006 by Richard Rodney Bennett in memory of the jazz singer Shirley Horn. It is a lovely bluesy ballad in a crossover style which was all Bennett's own and makes a fine conclusion to a lovely disc.

Throughout London plays his tenor saxophone (a 1933 C.G. Conn New Wonder Transitional saxophone customised by Steve Crow) with skill and imagination. The pieces on the disc are quite varied in style and London shows that the modern classical tenor saxophone is indeed a finely virtuoso, flexible and dynamic instrument. The disc is available direct from Matt London's website.

Matt London - The Pervasive Force
Geoff Eales - Song for my Mother
Andy Scott - My Mountain Top
Adam Caird - Out of Line
Cheryl Frances-Hoad - Sarcanthus
Geoff Eales - Farewell Patagonia
Graham Fitkin - Passing
Graham Coatman - Kaito
Richard Rodney Bennett - Ballad in Memory of Shirley Horn
Matt London (tenor saxophone)
David Howard (piano)
Geoff Eales (piano)
Recorded The Phipps Concert Hall, University of Huddersfield/ Studio Red Gables, London MATT LONDON ML001

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