In the mid-1800s, Adolphe Sax set out to create what would essentially be a loud-ass clarinet. At least, "loud" was the dominant criterion. He apparently liked military bands and wanted some blaring (and portable) woodwind to enter the ranks. Of course, he also produced "classical" models of his invention, but, according to rumors, a rather vindictive German composer who had a beef with Sax conspired to keep the instrument away from the European canon. I'm inclined to think that the uncontrolled squawking sound contributed as much to this phenomenon as did the putative conspiracy. In any case, the classical models grew quite rare early in the instrument's history.
We all know by now that the saxophone found another home in popular music, which, for a time, was called Jazz. Its strident sound sat very well on top of all manner of percussion, and in the hands of some masterful players, that baby could really cry. And it cried and whispered and sang and screamed... and so much of that still sounds just fantastic and so un-marching band-like that who knows which way the old Belgian is twisting in his grave. But you have to admit that sometimes the crying sounds as if at least one teary eye is gazing towards an Oscar. And everyone knows to regard that coquettish whisper with some suspicion. The sax rarely takes off its performance face.
Still, you might sometime happen upon a stubbly one, alone, hunched over the bar. You're friendly, and it responds politely enough, if a bit distant. The conversation seems bound for nowhere, but a silent gulf, and this late hour, opens into a stammering confession. The sax is talking to no one in particular, using names and mentioning details you could never know about; not exactly making sense, but conveying a kind of hurt - the kind we're better off having trouble expressing. You get it. You know it's a proud hurt, one you wouldn't want to lose but rarely want to show. You want to be the nameless consolation the sax is seeking as much as you want the sax to be too drunk to remember you tomorrow. For now, you're helping each other, and it's going to be okay even if it never changes because it's been okay before, even great, and it hadn't changed then, either, did it? So you cut the guy a mile of slack and just listen. And one little world disappears, so that the other just hovers for a while.
released November 1, 2008
Bhob Rainey - soprano saxophone, editing, mixing