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Alberto POSADAS (b 1967)
Ruinas, for tenor saxophone (2014) [11:24]
Fragmentos Facturados, for alto saxophone (2014) [7:18]
Serán ceniza, for soprano saxophone (2015) [9:20]
Objetos de la noche, for baritone saxophone (2015) [16:08]
Arietta, for sopranino saxophone (2016) [10:10]
Limite, for bass saxophone (2018) [12:44]
Ricard Capellino Carlos (saxophones)
rec. 2019/20, Auditori, Rafelbunyol, Valencia, Spain
KAIROS 0015034KAI [67:04]

The third Posadas disc on Kairos is devoted to the Valladolid-born composer’s six part saxophone cycle Veredas (Paths, or Ways), whose six component pieces are each conceived for a different member of the sax clan. According to Lydia Jeschke’s booklet note, the ‘paths’ of the title denote (dis)connections between extremes of reality (the written notes, the sounds that emerge) and the listener’s imagination, or the subconscious associations he or she might ascribe to the music. If nothing else, the singular spirit of the saxophone embodies a rather special kind of evocation; in my own case for example the classic breaks from 1970s chart hits such as Gerry Rafferty’s ‘Baker Street’ are more than just tunes, the instrumental timbre and tang effortlessly takes one back to the places one hung out at the end of the seventies whilst the sound of the tenor sax in isolation unfailingly links to the buskers encountered during midnight strolls along the banks of the Seine on past Parisian trips – including my honeymoon. It’s the accent rather than the text that sticks.

Stridency and granulation in contemporary saxophone repertoire sometimes impact on me in a similar way to the brief, minute long episode in David Lynch’s film Lost Highway where one actually sees the tragic male protagonist/murderer/sax god Fred Madison (played by Bill Pullman) strutting his stuff on stage – Angelo Badalamenti’s apocalyptic music conjures an entire realm of atmospheres and associations in the responsive, musically literate spectator – unconscious echoes pleasingly amplified in Madison’s immortal line “I want to remember things my own way. The way I remember them, not necessarily the way they happened."

Posadas, as ever in his work, is interested in the complex sonic potentials of these six instruments. The mathematical analyses might involve a different set of calculations to those carried out by Iannis Xenakis, but listeners may find the solutions both composers reach incorporate little in the way of overlap. The titles of these six pieces were derived from the poetry of the Galician writer and translator José Ángel Valente (1929-2000) who once taught at Oxford University; his work would in due course wind Franco up. The chirruping, percussive ‘slaps’ that tentatively intrude at the outset of Ruinas (Ruins) for tenor saxophone are swiftly dissolved in something more fluid and polyphonic, their re-emergence at strategic points later in the piece help the listener navigate. Ruinas is desolate and disorienting, atmospheric and sneeringly provocative, mostly calm but infrequently and memorably explosive. There is a vivid private singing quality to Richard Capellino Carlos’s playing of the tenor’s lowest ranges. The central section is mesmerising: rapid and virtuosic. Ruinas is serious stuff, and seemingly devoid of free-jazz posturing.

Following the tenor piece with its alto sibling Fragmentos Facturados (Broken Fragments) means that the two most ubiquitous members of the sax family are covered within the first quarter of the cycle. The ‘Ruins’ of the first number alluded to what once existed as a complete entity; the phrase ‘Broken Fragments’ implies something broken up and then broken up again. And yet sonically the music seems patterned, familiar, even regular and rhythmical. The piece seems to be a rather ornate dance around and between a regularly spaced F sharp which projects any number of subtleties and decorations between the notes. The pulse seems to morph into an exotic drumbeat. Without seeing what’s happening it’s almost impossible for the listener to believe that this is just one player playing just one instrument.

Serán ceniza (There will be ashes) again refers to a residual state of something that was. This piece for soprano saxophone is quiet, barren and still-centred, the constant legato produced by Carlos’ stunningly controlled circular breathing suggesting one unending exhalation, despite the little gradations and pulsings in its latter part. Harmonics and multiphonics imbue the piece with a depth and complexity which only truly touches the listener after repetition. Lydia Jeschke’s characterisation of it as a ‘sand-coloured’ slow movement is absolutely on the money.

At the heart of the cycle is Objetos de la noche, (Objects of the night) for baritone saxophone. This sixteen minute mini-epic is enhanced by the insertion of a spring drum into the bell of the instrument. This lends a synthetic quality to a sound which oscillates between ghostliness and violence. The vocal effects that ensue are hardly songful and lilting – I was regularly reminded of the all-encompassing splendour of the didgeridoo in the splenetic, disturbing yet colourful outbursts from Carlos’s sax. There’s profound drama, even grandeur in this fraught, geophysically suggestive piece; a terrifying gust howls between tall shadowy trees and cavernous underground caves. The hues and textures one imagines or feels seem quite extraordinary. This is a baritone sax playing at being a percussion orchestra. If the very idea of a piece for solo sax exceeding a quarter of an hour seems daunting on paper for the listener, I can assure them that Objetos de la noche is anything but. Tune in to the tolling bells around the 12:00 mark. They summarise the atmosphere of a remarkable piece which is in effect a vividly scored symphonic poem for a solo wind instrument.

Posadas’ carefully arranged juxtaposition of baritone, sopranino and bass saxophones for pieces 4, 5 and 6 in the cycle might suggest extreme timbral contrast but it’s a tribute to the composer’s imagination that each of these pieces embody an extraordinary palette of rhythmic, textural and colouristic variety in themselves. Non-experts in saxophone culture might be surprised that Carlos is playing a sopranino in Arietta given the depths to which it frequently plummets. High avian trills and glowing multiphonics launch and conclude this movement, for which the instrument has been again been ‘prepared’ by the addition of a trumpet mute to its bell. It’s perky and almost lyrical, with episodes of agitated, will-o’-the-wisp fleetness contrasting with quiet polyphonic reflection and more pungent, assertive moments. Arietta demands a level of virtuosity which amounts to sorcery; Carlos’s mastery is ample evidence of his close collaboration with the composer during the gestation of this cycle.

Veredas is completed by Limite (Boundary) for bass saxophone. Lydia Jeschke notes that Posadas turns to more experimental modes of scoring and design in this piece, which turns out to be a study of the division between the perceptible and the inaudible. Pulse and metronome annotations are less clearly defined and palpably irregular, whilst note-lengths are determined by seconds rather than time signatures. Dynamics are delicately mediated by the application of two different types of mute. The effect of all this (on this listener at least) is one of surprisingly agreeable disorientation and dislocation. The silences between the shapes proffer a useful tool for the bystander to better appreciate the piece’s internal logic. Limite casts an unexpectedly radiant spell; Ricard Capellino Carlos affords it a serpentine, dignified beauty.

On receiving a batch of new music discs to review, I am frequently wrong-footed by repertoire that seems daunting or unpromising on paper (eg a 68 minute cycle of pieces for solo saxophone). So one naturally tries hard to seek the appropriate internal (mood, level of curiosity, focus) and external (light, space, time of day) conditions. In the case of Alberto Posadas’ Veredas such planning proved quite unnecessary. This is by any measure fluent, colourful, captivating, satisfying and unexpectedly thought-provoking music. Ricard Capellino Carlos is evidently a performer blessed by outstanding technical and interpretative gifts. The Kairos engineers have done this cycle proud, and I encourage lovers of unusual repertoire to explore Veredas without delay.

Richard Hanlon

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