GUEST POST: Matana Roberts on The Alone Saxophone

It’s been a little while since our last guest post here, and we feel incredibly fortunate to be able to bring you another one. This time, the words, thoughts, and music are courtesy of altoist and composer Matana Roberts. As anyone who has seen Roberts perform knows, she invests her playing with a tremendous depth of passion, as well as a clear appreciation and respect for the tradition. Not that she shies away from tweaking that tradition when it is required. Here are her thoughts on six solo horn performances, some solidly in the tradition and others exploring the outer reaches.

The Alone Saxophone

I spend a lot of my listening time these days investigating and re-investigating solo recordings and live concerts across all genres of sound performance. It has in some ways become one of my favorite ways to check people out, and to  communicate some of my own sound ideas. I feel you can really hear the creative core of a sound maker in a way that you can’t hear in a collective group. In a group there is the collective core which is incredibly beautiful in itself, but at times it can be overwhelming. As a performer, I enjoy solo exploration because there’s no room for that kind of mind circus and, frankly, it’s hard. The process of the actual challenge and act I find immensely satisfying.

I like how in the process of doing, it acts as a very valuable centering practice, taking you somewhere else, sometimes someplace new, as a creator; alone. At the same time, it can  also remind you of places you might need to return. This is can be a distressing realization, but it’s much more gentler a prodding than what you might be confronted with in a collective effort. On a purely aesthetic level, it’s an honest encapsulation of live energy matter between a lone artisan and their chosen machine and possibly their witness audience, that no matter how hard they might try, will never be repeated quite the same way again. That in a nutshell is the joy of improvisation as performance/life practice to me.

So in the spirit of this poetic waxing that Destination: Out has so kindly requested, I have listed 6 solo alto-centric recordings that have been influential to me purely as an alto saxophone player. My own creative core is about  personal sound first and foremost. These recordings helped me to make my way towards embracing this personal ideal. These are not in any particular order or preference. Enjoy!

-

PRELUDE TO A KISS
Steve Lacy
10 of Dukes + 6 Originals
Senators : 2002

Mr. Lacy’s sound is one of very distinct order. I feel I can hear his predecessors, but I can also, incontestably, hear him. His sound is immediately identifiable. This particular recording is also very special to me, because it was sent in the mail by Mr. Lacy himself, during my first few epic years of NYC Living (i.e., combat). Along with it came a postcard that simply read, “Keep up the good work, I can hear you all the way here!” I was able to have a few lessons with him on solo playing, which was really monumental because I felt I was linking to history in a very tactile way that I hadn’t in awhile.This entire  record recreates that tactility for me every time.  My favorite track is above.

-

CHEROKEE
Lee Konitz
Lone-Lee
Steeplechase : 1974

Mr. Konitz, has always been a favorite of mine because he sums up again what I  love about sound. The immediate, uncanny identifiable voice. Two notes from Mr. Konitz and you know exactly who you are listening too. That to me is the most important legacy of this oral traditional styled  music.

-

KANSAS CITY LINE
Julius Hemphill
Blue Boyé
Screwgun : 2003 (rec. 1977)

I became interested in this record after getting the opportunity to play in the last incarnation of the Julius Hemphill Sextet. Playing that music was so much fun. It was really a joy to be around work that was so exquisitely written and just made the saxophones sing, really. That’s the only way I know how to describe it. Kudos to altoist Marty Ehrlich for working so hard to keep the legacy and memory of Mr. Hemphill, who by all accounts, from everyone in the band, sounded like one hell of a character, alive. His music seemed to give off an energy; I imagined his personality to be like from the stories I’d heard, robust, devoted, disciplined, yet warm, and humorous. This entire  recording of solo and layered solo pieces evokes that — though my favorite track is this one.

-

TENDERLY
Eric Dolphy
Far Cry
Prestige : 1960

Though the reverb echo on this recording picks a nerve in me always , I still love it every time because he plays with such conviction, and again his sound was so identifiable and fresh. Mr. Dolphy really was  an incredible solo player (his  bass clarinet solo on “God Bless the Child,” from Illinois Concert, is jaw dropping as well, but since I’m trying to stay saxophone-centric here, i will refrain from waxing poetic on that…. ) Anyhow, this track is off of Far Cry. Really it just haunted me  the first time i heard it, as the possibilities it presented were  life changing for me and my horn.

-

TO COMPOSER JOHN CAGE DEDICATED TO CECIL TAYLOR
Anthony Braxton
For Alto
Delmark : 1970

Now, I know some accomplished musicians who still to this day try to punk this record. All I ever give to that is a head shake. The kind of energy it takes to play an alto saxophone the way he is playing here is almost death defying as well as just incredibly creatively courageous. His own personal sound is very clear here. The only word to describe the way he’s moving around that alto on this is: epic. The first time I heard it, I had to sit down and just, you know, think about it, and the first solo concert I ever saw as an official New Yorker was an Anthony Braxton  solo  alto saxophone set. It blew my mind in almost the same way this record did. A is definitely for Alto.

-

TTUM
Roscoe Mitchell
Solo Concerts
AECO : 2009 (orig. Sackville, 1974)

Not trying to do the hardcore Chicago rep here, but this is another record that has meant a lot to me as a solo alto player, I just couldn’t leave it out. Mr. Mitchell and I did a duo concert together in Paris together once. I’ll never forget how steady, calm, and focused he was, while in some ways I was a bit of a nervous wreck  inside, standing on the same stage as one of my alto heroes. This record, though recorded early in his career as a soloist, is very much a solid representation of  some of the calm and steady exploration I found so inspiring on that stage in France. “Ttum” is my favorite track.

I left a lot of people off of this list, obviously, and only paid attention to ones that were deeply seminal to my early development as an altoist. I do a lot of different things in the name  and glory of sound exploration, solo alto exploration is and will always be at the core of all of it. There are  so many interesting takes on this creative  horn practice, by the way, that are worth hearing/seeing live (while they are still with us): Joe McPhee, Simon Rose, Charles Gayle, Colin Stetson, John Klemmer, Håkon Kornstad, Sam Newsome, Lol Coxhill, Jean Derome, John Butcher, Peter Brotzman, John Lurie, John Carter, Jason Robinson, Gianni Gebbia, Catherine Sikora, Kidd Jordan, David Murray, Evan Parker, Mats Gustafsson, Jorrit Dykstra, Alessandro Bosetti, John Zorn, Bhob Rainey, Jack Wright, Kang Tae Hwan, Masayoshi Urabe, Hamiett Bluett, David Gross, Ken Vandermark, and in the spirit of the Dolphy bass clarinet mention: Lori Freedman. And that’s just the short list of horn players that have taken on the task of the horn alone, either on recording or in live performance. Some of which I  have been lucky enough to be in the room for.

One of my all time favorites of the non-horn variety is the bassist extraordinaire Joelle Léandre. But that, alas, is for another essay perhaps…

I hope this list will inspire people to check out more solo offerings and also inspire other sound-makers to keep searching for that solo core. In my experience so far, it only gets richer the more you try.

Lastly, I have uploaded solo explorations of my own here. Most recently in the last year becoming interested in the role of solo sound within certain abandoned architectural frameworks, from different locales of my gypsy musical  travels. Take a listen.

Yours Always in Alto,
Matana Roberts
Ucross Wyoming,  Oct 22, 2010

% % % % % % %

Thanks, Matana! We second her suggestion to hear her own solo work, and encourage you to check it out. We should also note that all of the albums above are commercially available:

—Lacy, 10 of Dukes + 6 Originals
—Konitz, Lone-Lee
—Hemphill, Blue Boyé
—Dolphy, Far Cry
—Braxton, For Alto
—Mitchell, The Solo Concerts

Finally, if all goes well and according to plan, Roberts will be playing at D:O’s Loft/Lab series in May. We’re already looking forward…

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

The Alone Saxophone.

I spend a lot of my listening time these days investigating and re-investigating solo recordings and live concerts across all genres of sound performance. It has in some ways become one of my favorite ways to check people out, and to communicate some of my own sound ideas. I feel you can really hear the creative core of a sound maker in a way that you can’t hear in a collective group. In a group there is the collective core which is incredibly beautiful in itself, but at times it can be overwhelming. As a performer, I enjoy solo exploration because there’s no room for that kind of mind circus and frankly, simply put, it’s hard. The process of the actual challenge and act I find immensely satisfying.

I like how in the process of doing, it acts as a very valuable centering practice, taking you somewhere else, sometimes someplace new, as a creator; alone. At the same time, it can also remind you of places you might need to return.This is can be a distressing realization, but it’s much more gentler a prodding than what you might be confronted with in a collective effort. On a purely aesthetic level, it’s an honest encapsualization of live energy matter between a lone artisan and their chosen machine and possibly their witness audience, that no matter how hard they might try, will never be repeated quite the same way again. That in a nutshell is the joy of improvisation as performance/life practice to me.

So in the spirit of this poetic waxing that Destination Out has so kindly requested, I have listed 6 solo alto centric recordings that have been influential to me purely as an alto saxophone player. My own creative core is a about personal sound first and foremost. These recordings helped me to make my way towards embracing this personal ideal. These are not in any particular order or preference. enjoy!

1. Steve Lacy 10 of Dukes + 6 Originals

Mr. Lacy’s sound is one of very distinct order. I feel I can hear his predecessors, but I can also incontestably, hear him. His sound is immediately identifiable. This particular recording is also very special to me, because it was sent in the mail by Mr. Lacy himself, during my first few epic years of NYC Living( i.e.combat). Along with it came a postcard that simply read ” Keep up the good work, I can hear you all the way here!”. I was able to have a few lessons with him on solo playing, which was really monumental, because i felt i was linking to history in a very tactile way that I hadn’t in awhile.This entire record recreates that tactility for me every time. My favorite track is #4 Prelude to a Kiss

2.Lee Konitz Lonelee

Mr. Konitz, has always been a favorite of mine because he sums up again what I love about sound. The immediate, uncanny identifiable voice. Two notes from Mr. Konitz, and you know exactly who you are listening too. That to me is the most important legacy of this oral traditional styled music. Favorite track: Cherokee

3.Julius Hemphill Blue Boye

I became interested in this record after getting the opportunity to play in the last incarnation of the Julius Hemphill Sextet. Playing that music was so much fun. It was really a joy to be around work that was so exquisitely written and just made the saxophones sing, really. Thats the only way I know how to describe it. Kudos to Altoist Marty Ehrlich for working so hard to keep the legacy and memory of Mr. Hemphill, who by all accounts from everyone in the band, sounded like one hell of a character, alive. His music seemed to give off an energy, i imagined his personality to be like from the stories I’d heard, robust, devoted, disciplined, yet warm, and humorous.This entire recording of solo and layered solo pieces evokes that. My favorite track is Track 1, disc two : Kansas City Line

4. Eric Dolphy– Tenderly

Though the reverb echo on this recording picks a nerve in me always , I still love it every time because he plays with such conviction and again his sound was so identifiable and fresh. Mr. Dolphy really was an incredible solo player (his bass clarinet solo on God Bless the Child (Illinois Concert) is jaw dropping as well, but since I’m trying to stay saxophone centric here, i will refrain from waxing poetic on that…. ) Anyhow, this track is off of Far Cry. Really it just haunted me the first time i heard it, as the possibilities it presented were life changing for me and my horn.

5.Anthony Braxton For Alto :To Composer John Cage

Now I know some accomplished musicians who still to this day try to punk this record. All I ever give to that is a head shake. The kind of energy it takes to play an alto saxophone the way he is playing here is almost death defying as well as just incredibly creatively courageous.His own personal sound is very clear here. The only word to describe the way he’s moving around that alto on this is: epic. The first time i heard it, I had to sit down and just you know, think about it, and the first solo concert I ever saw as an official New Yorker was an Anthony Braxton solo alto saxophone set. It blew my mind in almost the same way this record did. A is definitely for Alto.

6.Roscoe Mitchell Solo Concerts

Not trying to do the hardcore Chicago rep here, but this is another record that has meant a lot to me as a solo alto player, I just couldn’t leave it out. Mr. Mitchell and I did a duo concert together in Paris together once. I’ll never forget how steady, calm and focused he was, while in some ways I was a bit of a nervous wreck inside to be standing on the same stage as one of my alto heroes. This record, though recorded early in his career as a soloist, is very much a solid representation of some of that calm and steady exploration I found so inspiring on that stage in France. My favorite track is # 8: Ttum.

I left a lot of people off of this list obviously, and only paid attention to ones that were deeply seminal to my early development as an altoist. I do a lot of different things in the name and glory of sound exploration, solo alto exploration is and will always be at the core of all of it. There are so many interesting takes on this creative horn practice by the way, that are worth hearing/seeing live( if they are still with us obviously): Joe McPhee, Simon Rose, Charles Gayle, Colin Stetson, John Klemmer,Håkon Kornstad, Sam Newsome,Lol Coxhill,Jean Derome, John Butcher, Peter Brotzman,John Lurie, John Carter, Jason Robinson,Gianni Gebbia,Catherine Sikora,Kidd Jordan,David Murray,Evan Parker,Mats Gustafsson, Jorrit Dykstra, Alessandro Bosetti, John Zorn, Bhob Rainey,Jack Wright,Kang Tae Hwan,Masayoshi Urabe, Hamiett Bluett,David Gross,Ken Vandermark, and in the spirit of the Dolpy bass clarinet mention: Lori Freedman, and thats just the short list of horn players that have taken on the task of the horn alone either on recording or in live performance. Some of which I have been lucky enough to be in the room for.

One of my all time favorites of the non horn variety is the bassist extraordinaire Joelle Leandre. But that alas is for another essay perhaps…

I hope this list will inspire people to check out more solo offerings and also inspire other sound makers to keep searching for that solo core. In my experience so far, it only gets richer the more you try.

Lastly, I upload solo explorations of my own here (http://soundcloud.com/search?q[fulltext]=matana+roberts) . Most recently in the last year becoming interested in the role of solo sound within certain abandoned architectural frameworks, from different locales of my gypsy musical travels. Take a listen.

Yours Always in Alto,

Matana Roberts

Ucross Wyoming, Oct 22, 2010

Discussion15 Comments Category guest posts, Matana Roberts Tags , , , , , ,

15 Responses to GUEST POST: Matana Roberts on The Alone Saxophone

  1. Saw Matana live in Seattle a few weeks ago – despite computer failure (and the attendant lack of prepared visuals), off the hook! Excited for the upcoming “Coin Coin” project releases – thanks Matana and D:O!

  2. “Ucross Wyoming” ???

    What’s up with that?

  3. Yes, thanks for the comments….. Robert i was mortified that the video decided not to work for that show, it was all set in soundcheck, at the same time it was a good practice in seeing if the music could stand on it’s own…. glad to hear it did. it certainly felt like it…… that seattle band was fantastic! and Yes, Harold, i finished this guest post in the midst of doing a month long arts residency in Ucross Wyoming, elvation 4,000+, population 25, hunting season…. it was an amazing experience. went onwards to portland, seattle, berkeley and oakland to do various performances and workshops of which Robert saw one…..some of the work i did there recently went up at The Studio Museum in Harlem http://www.studiomuseum.org/exhibition/studiosound-matana-roberts

  4. p.s. since i just went on about how life affirming, yet humbling solo playing is, i will “demonstrate” the confliction/sound contradiction at January’s jazz winterfest http://www.winterjazzfest.com/

  5. great selection from a very interesting player… plenty of names to check out in that long short list, too! slightly odd to see john carter there (unfortunately not “still with us”… also, did he ever play solo sax, as opposed to clarinet? perhaps ms roberts meant JAMES carter..?)

    in the interests of accuracy/record-straightening etc… the notorious, furious blast which kicks off *for alto* was not really dedicated to john cage; that was a mistake which never got corrected (or not until after the reissue). the tracklist for the album got a bit screwed up: the true dedicatee of that piece was cecil taylor (which makes a lot more sense of course). the correct title order is shown on the braxton discography at restructures. i wrote about this in a bit more detail a while ago now: http://tinyurl.com/3al9c57 (and later posted about that composition specifically: http://tinyurl.com/2v4t6l6 )… y’know, just in case anyone is interested…

  6. @centrifuge – way to regulate. Thanks for the fact-checking!

  7. Nope. I did indeed mean John Carter, not James. Carter played numerous instruments– alto saxophone included, before concentrating solely on the clarinet. I decided to include him because his record –A Suite of Early American Folk Songs is one of my favorites that I could not overlook, and since I included a little speak on other musician’s clarinet playing I felt okay adding that. Not to mention my first instrument was clarinet. I played it for many years before switching almost exclusively to the alto saxophone. The clarinet has definitely had an affect on my own sound conception as a solo alto saxophone performer, so it felt okay to include John Carter in this instance.

  8. m.r., thanks for clarifying that. yes, i know carter played alto, tenor etc early on. i also love that solo clarinet album… i guess the “mortality factor” threw me! (is he in fact the only player in your longer list who is NOT still with us? i don’t recognise some of the names.)

    i daresay everyone could add a name or two… i love solo reed playing, and would myself add arrington de dionyso, steve baczkowski… and arthur doyle..! (not everyone is gonna agree with that last one of course)

  9. In the spirit of the Dolphy bass clarinet, the best solo b.c. playing I have seen live has been by Louis Sclavis.

    I have recently been listening to the recording of Steve Lacy’s last solo concert on the album ‘November’. Impressive stuff.

  10. yes the mortality factor! that’s something that makes for interesting thought! I love my musical heroes, but a good portion of them have moved onto other realms , and I think it’s important, while not forgetting them, to spread the awareness of the folks alive, well, and creatively thriving in this one. And I still managed to leave a great many interesting people out, like France’s very own Louis Sclavis that is mentioned above.

  11. yeah, there’s a definite tendency in some areas of the media only to celebrate artists once they’re dead… support active musicians!

    come to think of it, sonny simmons has made some very interesting solo recordings too, both on alto and english horn…

  12. Nice choice of solo sax players. I must say that I still listen to the Lone Lee recordings 30 years after buying them, in fact only just the other day by coincidence. What’s wonderful is that you hear him thinking and probing his way through the tunes, never a dull moment, which is quite something for a solo sax record blowing over changes. It would of been wonderful to have had a complementary record made by Warne Marsh …… what an idea, eh!

    Interesting that the two clarinetists mentioned have , as you nicely put it, moved onto other realms. It’s for sure that Dolphy has certainly got his dues, maybe due to his connections with Mingus. However it’s still sad that John Carter remains a almost forgotten figure. I see that Mosaic is reissuing some of his early work, but only a little, and it’s almost a crime that his 5 part work ‘Roots and Folklore … etc’ is still not back in print.

    How about a posting on solo clarinet works next?

    Thanks for the post.

  13. thanks joe. yeah and its interesting to note the first person to turn me onto john carter wasnt a clarinetist but one of nyc’s finest drummers– former chicagoan– Chad Taylor.

    also speaking of chicago, meant to add saxophonist David Boykin to this list as his solo playing was some of the first i heard live, as well as a really beautiful track of solo sax playing over changes– the one and only von freeman on “I should lose you”
    http://www.popmatters.com/music/reviews/f/freemanvon-improvisor.shtml

    if von’s solo was the only thing on the entire record id of been satisfied. his rendering here is priceless…….

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