Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Sax to the max, mostly

If one saxophone is good, seven saxophones are seven times better, provided they're played by the right people. Nathan Hanson, George Cartwright, Pat Moriarty, Scott Fultz, Brandon Wozniak, Daryk Narum, and Donald Washington are the right people. I've seen all but Narum several times.

L to R: Narum, Pete Hennig on drums, Washington, Fultz,
Brian Roessler on bass, Wozniak, Hanson, Moriarty, Cartwright
Photo by John Whiting

On Sunday, HH and I drove all the way to Roseville on a chilly Sunday night to hear Nathan Hanson's newly formed Saxophone Choir at the Roseville Area High School's spacious and modern Performing Arts Center. The evening began with Moriarty (who teaches at Roseville and is a band director there) leading the school's award-winning Jazz Ensemble I and Jazz Combo in several selections by Bill Holman, Mongo Santamaria, Juan Tizot, and South African composer Chris McGregor (the mystically titled "The Serpent's Kindly Eye"), plus a world premiere of "Raincheck," a new work for big band. Tight ensembles, hot solos, impressive performances, and I loved that "Raincheck" was composed by one of Moriarty's students, Alex Charland.

The Saxophone Choir played 7 pieces from a repertoire of a possible 10 listed on the program. We heard Thollot's "Marche," and "Cinq Hops," Milton Nascimento's "Ponta de Areia," Carla Bley's "Blunt Object" (with a fine solo by Wozniak), Thollot's "On the Mountain" (which paired Fultz's alto with Hanson's soprano), local treasure Carie Thomas's "Turn Left, You Can't Miss It" (which Hanson prefaced by saying it was about someone giving Thomas directions to Charlie Parker's grave), and Bley's "Real Life Hits," featuring Narum on bari. "Blunt Object" was the only piece I knew, probably because I've listened to Carla Bley Live! a million times.

We had a good time, the musicians looked as if they had a good time, and everything seemed to work: the concept, Hanson's arrangements, the space. Two minor gripes from me: The set was too short, and where were Hanson's original compositions? If the Saxophone Choir wasn't a one-off, and I hope it wasn't, perhaps we'll hear them next time, in a longer set.

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