Timothy McAllister, saxophone

Innova 764

Lucia Unrau, piano; Robert Spring, clarinet

I knew Timothy McAllister’s recently released CD, Glint, was a hit when it grabbed me through my Jeep’s speakers as I drove down the highway. An athletic, delicate and powerful performance, Glint showcases Mr. McAllister’s command of the full sonic potential of his instrument. Along these lines, the works featured on the album cast a wide net over the landscape of contemporary music, making Glint a must-listen for any composer with plans of working with saxophone, regardless of aesthetic preferences.

The CD plays like a recital one would never forget, and samples a wide variety of instrumental combinations, soloistic colors and modern musical styles. For example, Caleb BurhansEscape Wisconsin (2006), Roshanne Etehazy’s Glint (2006) and Gregory Wanamaker’s Duo Sonata (2002) represent the kind of groove-oriented saxophone music I’ve observe to be very popular for saxophones, though, each of the three are very different. Escape Wisconsin is heavily rooted in repeated rhythms and melodic figures, as is the first movement of Mr. Wanamaker’s Duo Sonata, though this piece quickly departs to explore beautiful two-part counterpoint and – ultimately – the blues. Ms. Etehazy’s Glint is a tightly wound composing-out of an opening string of triplets, and presents – much like Mr. Wanamaker’s Duo Sonata – the nearly identical sounds of clarinet, played by Robert Spring, and saxophone in varied combinations.

Offering a more aggressive and abstract sound are Kristin Kuster’s Jellyfish (2004), Kati AgócsAs Biddeth Thy Tongue (2006) and Daniel Asia’s The Alex Set (1995). Ms Agócs’ and Mr. Asia’s works are perfect large-scale solo works, particularly As Biddeth Thy Tongue which feels like a dramatic soliloquy and possesses a wide expressive range thanks to is juxtaposition of great lyricism and extended techniques. The Alex Set similarly opposes the saxophone’s sweetness and rhythmic facility within a more rigid structure of expository set pieces separated by contemplative interludes. Ms. Kuster’s Jellyfish is one of two works on the CD that pairs Mr. McAllister with piano, played by Lucia Urnau. The work flows smoothly through three movements, and the first – “medusa” – is compellingly indecisive, vacillating between capricious, fast gestures and slower, recitative-esque passages. This is followed by the sincere and elegiac aria, “blob” –some of the most profound music on the CD – and then closes with the piano and saxophone working almost as one line on the light and mecurial, “thimbles”.

Glint’s final two tracks enter a more severely modernist sound world: Philippe Hurel’s OPCIT (1984) and Peter Terry’s Rise (2004). OPCIT is a stochastic and contrapuntal exploration of duration, volume and timbre superimposed onto the single voice of the saxophone. Like an evolved iteration of the polyphonic movements in Bach’s solo suites, Mr. Hurel’s composition uses spectral techniques to create a multi-layered network of extended techniques and gestures, which intensify over the work’s four movements, climaxing at the peak of the instrument’s range. Rise is similarly focused on extreme colors and throws electronics and piano into the mix with Mr. McAllister’s saxophone. Mr. Terry’s work explores a handful of concepts such as textural density, the “nature of rhythm” and “starting in the middle is as good a place to start as anywhere.” Rise is an excellent walk off piece for the album because it culminates so much of what the preceding works have explored both in terms of instrumental virtuosity and timbre. Semi-chaotic, Mr. Terry’s work projects its intended image of a “dangerously overloaded machine” and – in the scope of the whole CD – acts as a satisfyingly exotic musical destination to which Glint’s previous tracks lead the listener.

I highly recommend this album for anyone interested in contemporary saxophone music or any composer about to embark on a project with a saxophonist. All musicians will benefit from experiencing Timothy McAllister’s staggering performance ability. The works he selected for Glint are equally impressive and demonstrate the saxophone’s superb fluency in all areas of the modern musical language. Finally, if for no other reason, listen to Glint because it is a wildly successful recorded object, and will engage its audience in any environment, even a noisy car speeding down the interstate.

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