Formed in 1991 London Saxophonic is an ensemble dedicated to the creation and performance of new music for multiple saxophones.
Early experimentations as a saxophone sextet became the template for the future musical direction of the group; founder member Will Gregory’s fantastically energetic composition Hodown was one of the very first pieces along with music from various Eastern and ethnic origins. The eventual line-up became nine saxophones (Sopranino, Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Baritone and Bass in various combinations) integrated with percussion, keyboards and string or electric bass. The repertoire of arrangements and re-workings by Will Gregory and Gareth Brady included The Train by Nouthong Phimivilayphone, Rhodopski Melody trad. Bulgarian, The Fall of Icarus by Michael Nyman and Music From Nixon In China Act III by John Adams.
After meeting Louis Hardin aka Moondog (read more about Moondog here) during a rare visit to England by the composer the recently formed group was invited to perform at the 1992 Stuttgart Jazz Festival; this was the beginning of a successful working relationship. Subsequent performances were given by Moondog with London Saxophonic throughout Germany as well as in Austria and Switzerland. Two cd recordings were made; ‘sax pax for a sax’ in 1992 and the big band album (now released as ‘Rare Material’) in combination with London Brass in 1994. In July 1995 in what was to be the groups final live performance with Louis London Saxophonic played music from the Moondog Big Band Album with London Brass at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London as part of the Southbank Arts Centre ‘Meltdown Festival’ curated that year by Elvis Costello.
The players affinity with minimal music and the success in performance of Will Gregory’s brilliant arrangement of The Fall of Icarus was explored further in the 1997 recording of music by Michael Nyman; ‘An Eye For A Difference’. The full cd of resourceful and original arrangements of Nyman’s music included An Eye for Optical Theory from the score to the Draughtmans Contract, L’Hotel de Ville from the score to Traversee de Paris (both Peter Greenaway films) and music from Nyman’s later film scores to The Piano and Carrington. Live performances of the programme were given at London’s Southbank, St Georges Bristol, Canterbury Cathedral and in Wimeraux France.
More recently following a successful performance in Milan London Saxophonic was invited to perform at Etnafest in Catania where, alongside music by Nyman, Will Gregory and Nina Rota it gave the premiere of the saxophone version of Gavin Bryars ‘Three Elegies’ in a new arrangement by Gareth Brady. Bryars twenty minute work featuring a soaring solo line for the lead soprano saxophone and a virtuosic baritone sax obbligato reaching the upper altissimo of the instrument, along with whisper quiet ensemble passages make this one of the more demanding works in the current Saxophonic repertoire.
On May 30th 2009 the group reconvened for a long overdue return to the Moondog programme as part of the main evening performance of ‘The Viking of Sixth Avenue’; a celebration of the life and work of Louis Hardin at the Barbican in London. The fifty minute set given by London Saxophonic to a packed Barbican Hall was fantastically received and will serve to inspire the continued future activities of this group.
Moondog at the Barbican
The first half was terrific. The mostly brass ensemble London Saxophonic worked with Moondog in the Nineties and they brought all sorts of new meaning to the childlike (but not childish) New York and the jaunty, percussive Shakespeare City.
The London Evening Standard
First, Clarvis. He has the power and the radiant enthusiasm to propel a band of any size, any age or make up, from his tiniest of drum kits, and he served London Saxophonic very well last night. This saxophone nonet were impressive, full toned with good ensemble and balance.
For my ears the highlight of this half and possibly of the whole concert, was Liam Noble’s brief solo feature halfway through the set, of three piano pieces. Noble has an extraordinary depth of understanding of how to get right under a Moondog melodic line and really make it sing.
…… making for a wonderfully rich timbral experience. Ranging from sopranino to bass, the lines interweave and drop in and out with startling precision……
London Saxophonic with Evan Parker, St.Georges Brandon Hill, Bristol.
While the venue for this concert pre-dated its principal instrument, the saxophone, by a number of years, together they sounded like a match made in heaven. Bass and baritone parps proved suitable fruity, while in quiter moments the long drawn out sighs of tenor, alto and soprano were as subtle as the patterning of cold breath against a windowpane…..
……the dectet of saxophones plus piano and bass guitar that is London Saxophonic is staggeringly good already. In a first half of Michael Nyman compositions the group propelled the music forwards with an eminently suitable mixture of dry wit and brute force… ……making two short themes from the soundtrack for the film The Draughtsman’s Contract seem even better than one remembered.
For the finale the whole band, Parker and drummer re-grouped for two East European folk tunes in which the keening wails of eleven saxes sounded like an Arvo Pårt choir jamming with the Bulgarian National Assembly of Throat Singers.
The Purcell Room
….. the ensemble showed itself to be resourceful, entertaining and thoroughly musical I had the constant impression of a red carpet of timbre being unrolled.
The Sunday Times
Early days; The Hope Chapel, Bristol.
Every so often we are lucky enough to hear a concert that leaves us with the feeling that what we have just heard was an important event, one that goes beyond the quality of the performance and into the realm of those rare occurrences that might retrospectively be pointed to as ‘a first’ of ‘a beginning’.
The importance of the event for me lay simply in the size and unbridled enthusiasm of the audience, …… the huge ovation and enthusiasm that followed the concert left the impression that something important has happened. …..but it was the sheer quality of the musicianship and the wonderful flexibility of the instrument that left them wanting more – much more.
Clarinet and Saxophone
London Saxophonic manages to mix the best of both worlds. The jazzy inflections come out strongly in their readings of Moondog and Will Gregory’s splendidly irreverent re-workings of ethnic themes. Meanwhile, the customary impersonality fits their choice of minimalism like a glove. Re-arrangements of music from John Adams opera Nixon In China and Michael Nyman’s Icarus were delivered as if by a particularly inspired machine, the component parts meshing together perfectly.
…….. this was a mesmerising performance – a triumph for the saxophone.