Cuban Sax Quintet: Saxofones Live Sessions

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Cuban Sax Quintet at Teatro Nacional - La Habana - 35 Festival Internacional Jazz Plaza
Cuban Sax Quintet at Teatro Nacional – La Habana, Cuba – 35 Festival Internacional Jazz Plaza De La Habana a Santiago. Photo credit: Danilo Navas.

Music played by ensembles comprising exclusively by saxophones became a phenomenon in Jazz with the World Saxophone Quartet. The group was founded in 1977 and comprised Julius Hemphill, Oliver Lake, Hamiet Bluiett and David Murray. Together they extended the frontiers of music with their unique journey into free improvisations flavoured by R & B, funk and South African music. Although some original members have returned to the realm of the ancestors, the group continues to flourish. In 2010 Michael Pagan wrote programmatic music for the Colorado Saxophone Quintet. The composer’s Preludes and Fugues was an epic album in which musicians doffed their hats to the contrapuntal music “invented” by Johann Sebastian Bach.

Cuban Sax Quintet: Saxofones Live Sessions
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However, the Cuban Sax Quintet is like neither of those seminal groups. This extraordinary band made up of five of the finest saxophonist in Cuba brings their considerable (collective) musicianship to not only push the frontiers of music, but then also blurs the lines that separate classical styles from Jazz and ignites everything it (the quintet) does with the fires of Afro-Caribbean music burning and smouldering intensely as it unfolds. This intense music unfolds on Saxofones Live Sessions, directed by German Velázco and produced by Mr Velázco and César López. They are joined by equally brilliant saxophonists Yamil Scherry, Alfred Thompson and Evaristo Denis. Together these musicians pour their musical hearts out in exquisite boleros such as “Bolero a mi padre” or blues such as “Bariton blue” and also display their virtuosity on the brilliantly-conceived and executed “Allegro in D minor” and “Bach times”. However, it is not simply these songs, but every piece that is superbly played here. Rightfully so, Saxofones Live Sessions won a well-deserved award in the (Instrumental Music) Música Instrumental category during the prestigious Premios Cubadisco 2019.

There is power and nobility in all of the music played here. Remarkably each of the pieces are original compositions; each going to show how these remarkable musicians have absorbed the whole history of music, which now gushes like a mighty river from the bells of their respective saxophones. It is a breathtaking recital from end to end. In sheer colour and variety, in the depth of its characterisation and the exceptional range and refinement of the musicianship the artists impart a monumental stature to these works. Soli are brief and when undertaken there is always a sense that ornamentation is never for its own sake. Ensemble playing is always brimming with genius.

Together the five members of the Cuban Sax Quintet parley with the familiarity of old friends, yet their playing always retains the sense of gracious etiquette associated with noble academies, yet exploding with the sense of spontaneity that defines great improvised music no matter where it is created. Nothing is forced or exaggerated or overly mannered; tempos, ensemble and balance – all seem effortlessly and intuitively right. These are, in sum, sincere and poised accounts, fitting tributes to music in all its forms especially that which is created to honour the instrument invented by the great Adolphe Sax. The woodwind sound is impeccable and captured masterfully by Yosdán Cohímbra with both sonority and warmth.

Track list – 01: Allegro in D minor; 02: Bach times; 03: Bariton blue; 04: Bolero a mi padre; 05: Fin y Comienzo; 06: Fiesta de Orishas; 07: Una flor para Bea; 08: Sabila; 09: Mutación; 10: Caprichito; 11: 40 Compases

Personnel – Yamil Scherry: tenor saxophone (1st tenor – 03, 06, 2nd tenor 02, 04, 05, 07, 08, 10; solo 03); German Velázco: alto saxophone (01, 04, 09, 11 – 1st alto – 11), soprano saxophone (02, 03, 05, 06, 10 – 1st soprano – 06, soli 03, 05) and tenor saxophone (1st tenor – 07); César López: alto saxophone (02-05, 07, 08, 10, 11 – 1st alto 02, 2nd alto – 04, 11, solo 02) and soprano saxophone (01, 09, 2nd soprano – 06); Alfred Thompson: tenor saxophone (01, 03-06, 08, 10, 11, 1st tenor – 03, 04, 05, 08, 10, 11, 2nd tenor 06, solo 10) alto saxophone (2nd alto 02, 09) and soprano saxophone (solo 07); Evaristo Denis: baritone saxophone and alto saxophone (06); Yosdán Cohímbra: engineering; Giraldo García: mixing and mastering

Released – 2019
Label – Empresa de Grabaciones y Ediciones Musicales – EGREM (CD1562)
Runtime – 41:17

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