A CITY CONSTRUCTED BY SAXOPHONE
Saxophones are something of an obsession with me, especially when a player is trying to do something unusual with the instrument. So I listen constantly to Lester Young, Eric Dolphy, Dexter Gordon, Elton Dean, Evan Parker, Dewey Redman, Dudu Pukwana, Paul Dunmall and on and on. The list is probably endless. Recently, I was listening to that fine alto player, Julius Hemphill with cellist Abdul Wadud on their īLive In New York' album and enjoying his sharp, keening sound. Sometimes it is such a lonely voice, one bereft of joy, and at others it sings and affirms life. But listening to that coincided with a cd from a new voice and that of a tenor saxophonist, one Simon Yarde.
I can't recall who it was that said the sound of the tenor sax is the nearest you can get to the human voice. Well, that was before Mr Yarde recorded his Manhattan Suite, a composition for processed tenor saxophone inspired by a visit to New York two years ago. In his words it is intended īto create a journey into the urban sprawl' and it does evoke a sense of movement, though not into any conventional cityscape. He also talks of the sound as īthe friction of a world under the electron microscope'. That isn't something I can readily envisage but it does, somehow, convey the sense of atmosphere built throughout the work.
A long way from the human voice then. In fact there is little that could be immediately recognised as the voice of a tenor sax. But through the use of electronic processing a more forbidding sonic landscape emerges. It's surfaces and textures are bleak and metallic, the sounds are not those of the inhabitants but of non-human structures. They may be drawn from the rain and wind driven down through the shadows of skyscrapers or into the networks where the underground grinds its metal doors and tracks. They may be forlorn fog warnings coming from the darkness of the river. At one point there is a sound which bears some slight resemblance to a human voice but it is far from comforting or reassuring. I briefly thought of the Hemphill recording but this is far bleaker than anything found on that album.
The entire piece is just under 10 minutes long yet does manage to construct an unsettling abstract urban soundscape. It is an impressionistic view and also one which you feel compelled to re-visit. He is currently working on material that will form a debut album for release sometime in 2002 . I look forward to hearing whatever he does with the sax on that too.
© Paul Donnelly 2001