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Seen & Heard
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From a Far-off World
Waking in the Dirt [14.10]
Interlude 1 (Intension) [6.14]
Songs (adapted for soprano saxophone, 2004) (1997) [11.00]
2 (Reflection) [2.49]
the Pattern [13.32] (2004)
(saxophones and bass clarinet)
rec. May 2006
RECORDS CPS8761 [55.08]
is a champion of contemporary music, performing both classical
and jazz woodwinds. He is based in the USA and currently has
two solo recordings - 'When Wind comes to sparse Bamboo', also
from Capstone Records dates from August 2003. This is therefore
his second CD and contains new electro-acoustic works for solo
saxophone and bass clarinet by contemporary American composers.
Spaneas also has a great interest in music from the Balkans
and Far East.
The first work
on the disc is Shaun Naidoo's 'Waking in the Dirt' for bass
clarinet and electronics. Naidoo was born in South Africa in
1962 and moved to Los Angeles in 1990, where he has compsed
many electro-acoustic works. 'Waking in the Dirt' is in two
parts: 'Waking in the Dirt' and 'Turning in the Soil'. Both
titles were inspired by photos of exhumed bodies from massed
graves around Serbia and Tuzsla in Bosnia. All very gloomy,
and indeed the music is, with the unique timbre of the bass
clarinet perfectly reflecting the sombre mood. The first half
'Waking in the Dirt' features tightly focused improvisations
with tape sounds based on bass clarinet samples. The effect
is very spooky and definitely not easy listening. The whole
piece is deeply disturbing. There is some impressive bass clarinet
playing from Spaneas showing his complete mastery of a very
difficult and challenging instrument. The second half 'Turning
in the Soil' features much more 'standard' bass clarinet playing
with strictly notated music and free interjections from the
The other work
by Shaun Naidoo on this disc is also a very emotive piece.
'Blood on the Water' was written for Spaneas in 2004 and written
for alto saxophone and electronics. The electronic part uses
manipulated saxophone sounds along with occasional voice effects.
The performer has to use precise notation combined with improvisations.
The five movements are:- 'Nothing from the Sun' - Alto sax
interjections which start off in a jazz idiom and leads to
a long slow improvisatory passage. 'Hidden Warning' - Here
Spaneas demonstrates fine technical mastery including special
effects such as growls. 'The Kindness of Women' - At last something
soothing with gentle gradually descending scales followed by
a calm melody on the saxophone. This is very lovely and sensitive
playing. 'Killer Toys' - This demonstrates fast and technical
playing from Spaneas but children be warned - you will not
want to play with these toys! 'Blood on the Pattern' - Again
this is very disturbing. Imagine spreading waves of blood getting
worse that eventually cause severe distress. However there
is a calming effect at the end.
These Naidoo works
are really only for contemporary and electro-acoustic specialists.
They are certainly not easy listening and are very disturbing.
Spaneas uses his
two Interludes as bridging works. Both are written for solo
alto saxophone. 'Interlude 1 - Intension' - A clever title
as tense it certainly is. It is based on a classical rondo
but contrasts in techniques rather than in melodies. Indeed
I found it hard to detect any melody at all. However Spaneas's
technique is truly impressive. He makes the saxophone sound
as though it has been electronically enhanced and I'm sure
that saxophonists, like myself, would love to know how he obtains
some of the special effects. 'Interlude 2 - Reflection' - A
good title as the piece reflects the thanksgiving hymn 'We
Gather Together'. Spaneas uses the full harmonic spectrum of
the saxophone but to me it is very difficult to detect the
My favourite pieces
on the CD have to be the 'Tagore Songs' by Jane Brockman. These
were written originally for clarinet but work brilliantly on
the soprano saxophone for which they adapted here. The work
is influenced by Indian music and sounds very improvisatory
despite being fully notated. Each movement is named after a
quotation by the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941).
1. A lurid glow waxes and wanes on the horizon .... what was
sorrow has now become peace. This movement is more melodious
than other works on the disc. It is very atmospheric with stunning
soprano saxophone playing. The tuning is impeccable. Very peaceful
and really capturing the spirit of India and its vocal tradition.
2. Reflected ...... from a far-off world .... and vanished!
3. Where roads are made, I lose my way. This final song is
much faster and technical than the other two.
The other work
on the CD is 'Blood Memory' by Sean Heim for bass clarinet
and electric sruti box. A sruti box distorts the voice to make
it sound as though it is producing overtones equivalent to
the amazing harmonics Spaneas produces on the bass clarinet.
The piece is dedicated to the courage and strength of Truganini,
one of the last Tasmanian aborigines. It is well suited for
the bass clarinet, which in its lowest register sounds remarkably
like a didgeridoo.
This is not an
easy disc to listen to at all. However it is a clever disc
and really shows off the formidable techniques of Spaneas.
The only piece I could possibly relax to is the Brockman Tagore
songs. Otherwise the other pieces are deeply disturbing. At
times I had to turn the music down so as not to disturb the
neighbours. This is definitely a CD for contemporary music
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