American Voices
American Voices

Brian Sacawa, saxophones

Innova Recordings


Piece in the Shape of a Square, Philip Glass
Pre-Amnesia, Lee Hyla
pastlife laptops and attic instruments, Erik Spangler
Netherland, Chris Theofanidis
Bacchanalia Skiapodorum, Derek Hurst
Voice Within Voice, Keeril Makan
The Low Quartet, Michael Gordon

American Voices is, without doubt, a CD you need. The performances by Mr. Sacawa are amazing and the music selected is equally so. This is music that every sax player you know needs to perform and that every music listener you know needs to hear.

The first track is an arrangement of Piece in the Shape of a Square (aka Music in the Shape of a Square) and it is hard to imagine that Glass didn’t write it for the saxophone. Mr. Sacawa’s performance is light and effervescent with a great attention to energy. This is “old school” minimalism (whatever that means) at its finest.

The next piece, Pre-Amneisa by Lee Hyla is angular, disjointed, and tremendously captivating. Mr. Sacawa is nimble, musical, and effortless throughout. There are two things about the piece I don’t like: it is too short (I want more! I usually listen to this one 2 or 3 times before going on) and the performance sounds so smooth that many people will think it was easy to play.

Just as the first two pieces on the recording are very different from each other, the third piece is different still. Erik Spagler’s pastlife laptops and attic instruments includes a tape part and live turntables (performed here by Mr. Spagler’s alter ego DJ Dubble8). This piece is funky, lyrical, and sounds more like free improv than it really is. Lots of great beats and textures provide wonderful counterpoint to Mr. Sacawa’s soaring lines. I’m not sure I’m in tune with the dramatic shape of this track, but there are a lot of moments throughout that I love. Definitely worth multiple listens.

Chris Theofanidis’ Netherland is the most “traditional” piece on the CD. The saxophone is set as the lyrical focal point to Wenli Zhou’s piano accompaniment. These two movements are strong, striking and wonderfully melodic.

Pulling the stylistic rug out from us yet again is Derek Hurst’s Bacchanalia Skiapodorum for sax and tape. Once again, Mr. Sacawa takes spastic rhythmic bursts and makes them sound fluid, organic, and darn-near easy. The tape part, made largely from sax samples, provides a disjunct and angular commentary on the live performance. Some of the sounds recall the more “vintage” sound worlds of earlier Davidovsky or Subotnick with the same flair for interaction and texture. This piece is rich, fun, and energetic.

Voice Within Voice once again takes a completely different approach to the instrument. According to the notes, the sax is being used as a “megaphone for the performer’s singing and breathing.” The end result is a piece haunting and mesmerizing. My one regret is that I haven’t seen this piece live. I can only imagine the theatrical intensity required. Truly stunning stuff.

Finally, we have Michael Gordon’s The Low Quartet arranged for low saxes (with a contrabass providing that extra bottom octave when needed). If that isn’t reason enough for you to get this disc, then I don’t know what else to say. The low saxes are, in my humble opinion, the best saxes. And Michael Gordon’s piece is fun, quirky, rhythmic, and absolutely awesome.

Brian Sacawa has done a masterful job performing and selecting music that showcase his instrument in as many different ways as possible. Each piece is radically different than the one before it and equally different to the one that follows. All of them are played with an ease and virtuosity that almost defies logic. This is an excellent recording. Period.

One Response to “American Voices”
  1. [...] The first review of American Voices has appeared on the august website Sequenza21. Here’s a sample: “American Voices is, without doubt, a CD you need. The performances by Mr. Sacawa are amazing and the music selected is equally so. This is music that every sax player you know needs to perform and that every music listener you know needs to hear.” Stop, stop! I’m blushing. Okay, go on! [...]

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