CD Reviews by Peter Hales:
Vintage Saxophones Revisited:
A tour of the early history of the saxophone
Available from To the Fore Publishers, $15 US
Total CD playing time: 61:48
Classax Recordings #101 (1995)
How I got the CD: Bought it
Overall impression: Stop reading this review, go to Dr. Cohen's website and
buy a copy!
What this CD is: This CD could be best described as a clinic, quickly going
through the history of the saxophone and giving you sound samples along the
way, a good companion to Paul Lindemeyer's wonderful book,
Celebrating the Saxophone.
What I liked most: Excellent sound samples from artists from
the early history of the saxophone (even wax cylinder recordings), including
a unique comparison of high pitch vs. low pitch using two Bb sopranos made
by the same company in the same year (Evette-Schaeffer, circa 1912). Additionally,
there's a beautiful recording of Calvin Hampton's “Variations on Amazing Grace”, featuring
Dr. Cohen on Conn-O-Sax. Let's also not forget the premiere recording of Henry
and Fuguing Tune #18” for Bb soprano and Eb contrabass.
What I liked least: Way too short.
Commentary: Yes, I know this CD was produced almost 10 years ago. It took
me the better part of those 10 years to get my act in gear and send Dr. Cohen
an e-mail to find this CD. So I procrastinate a little …
This CD is essentially an expanded, audio version of one of Dr. Cohen's Vintage
Saxophone Revisited columns from The Saxophone Journal magazine.
Since it's an expanded version, so Dr. Cohen does go into some detail with examples of historical recordings and new ones of vintage instruments that
he recorded himself. Unfortunately, while the audio examples and playing are extremely good, the CD's way too short: this project should be a box set.
The saxophone history investigated on this CD is essentially from the late 19th century through the early 1950's. This means the interesting early development
of the saxophone in the 1840's (I would have loved to hear some comparisons of the saxophone to A. Sax's bass clarinets or even an ophicliede) and the
age of the first production horns (and the original “clone” saxophones) in the 1860's is skipped. Additionally, the history is very breezy: there's no
mention of Allen Loomis, for instance, the Conn engineer that brought so much to the saxophone world – or
even the fundamental shift in saxophone design that was ushered in with the advent of the Selmer Balanced Action (and perfected in the Selmer Mark VI).
Additionally, one of the most famous saxophone variants, the Sarrusophone, is mentioned, but we never hear a sample.
Several saxophones are not featured on this CD, including Bb bass, Bb tenor and C melody tenor. The exclusion of the Bb tenor and Bb bass could probably
be excused, but the C melody is a major omission, as it was the main “home user” instrument that fueled the saxophone craze of the 1920's.
Since this CD was released, there were several new horns that were introduced
in the saxophone world that really should be included in an historical retrospective
of saxophone history: the Contra-alto and other instruments from Jim Schmidt and the panoply of horns from Benedikt
Eppelsheim, including a workable Bb
sopranissimo (he calls it a “Soprillo”) and contrabasses in Eb, Bb and C (the “Tubax” family).
These additions suggest that this CD project should be updated.
However, I applaud Dr. Cohen on this CD: the presentation is very good and
the music is even better. The sound clips of rare and unusual horns that you'll
probably never hear anyplace else, like the slide saxophones, definitely make
this a “must buy” CD if you're any kind of enthusiast of saxophone history – or
if you're a composer and you want some idea of the color the more unusual members
of the saxophone family can bring to your composition.
In conclusion, it's a very, very good CD and even has good liner notes which include an article by the late Sigurd Rascher on the
Cowell composition. However, this CD is way too short and leaves me yearning for much more. Let's hope Dr. Cohen updates this CD and puts out a box set