Category: Reviews

Brian Landrus releases new album, “Red List”

Brian Landrus is a modern baritonist, amongst all the many other woodwinds he plays – often focusing on the low range. In addition to recently joining the composition faculty at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Brian has released a new album. This album is called Red List, and refers to a list of critically endangered animals – Brian is hoping to raise awareness about this important issue.

The album sounds great, and Brian has assembled an incredible list of musicians to play on it. It has a lot of room for improvisation but is clearly showcasing Brian’s composition skills and also leaning into more of a modern rock/electric sound that is refreshing to hear.

Have a listen below, and head over to Brian’s website to pick up a copy.

2 Recordings from Josh Sinton

The baritone saxophone is not nearly as prevalent as the alto or tenor, so it is inherently somewhat niche. Josh Sinton is a long time practitioner of the baritone and is exploring the edges of what the already somewhat undiscovered baritone saxophone can do. He has two new recordings out and they are worth listening to.

“b.” is a solo baritone saxophone recording. Recording an instrument acoustically while playing solo is incredibly daunting and ambitious. Adding digital effect, pedals, loops etc can really assist the endeavor. But Josh has spent a lot of time developing a repertoire of sounds and approaches to the saxophone such that he can now present an entire album’s length of music and sound with just him and a saxophone in a room. When listening to a solo instrumental recording I like to try to keep in the foreground the physical reality of the music. This is a large brass tube with holes in it, and the variety of sounds that can be produced with it is astonishing and worth listening to.

The other recording, “Adumbrations” is a trio recording with Josh, Jed Wilson, and Tony Falco. While still not striking down the middle of main-stream jazz this recording might be more familiar sounding to some listeners. The interaction between the musicians is really what’s special here. I especially enjoyed hearing Josh play some excellent flute.

I encourage you to expand your palate for baritone and go to Josh’s band camp page and have a listen. You make like it, love it, or just be interested to know what’s possible.

A new album from Preston Cummins & Co

There is a new album from a group called Mr. PC out of Dallas, TX featuring some classic swinging music. The group is a sextet (baritone, trumpet, trombone, piano, bass drums) and while the tunes are all originals they have a timeless jazz feel about them. The writing is nice, the playing is tasteful, especially from the young baritonist, Preston Cummins. 

The album is called Sessions, and I recommend you have a listen. Check the links below:

https://music.apple.com/us/album/sessions/1624430148

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCjqDZ7EeK-7y83BqbbZMPoA

New Mulligan Transcription – Straight No Chaser

A new transcription has just been added to the transcription repository – and its a bit of a strange one. This transcription comes to us from Erik Robisch, thank you!

Gerry Mulligan fans will probably know of the album that features him and Thelonious Monk. Two seemingly very different players with different approaches, and boy does that show on this album. Monk being famously fond of dissonance and jagged lines and Mulligan opting for linear consonant melodies. I think its a safe assumption that this was a record company’s idea of ‘put two big names together and profit’ and thus I’m not sure the music was at the forefront of the intention here.

There’s a quote from mulligan that goes something like ‘playing with Monk’s comping is like falling down an elevator shaft’ or something to that effect. I think this is probably true in the best of circumstances, but listening to this album I can’t help but think that Monk is just intentionally messing with and vibing Mulligan. For example on the track where this transcription comes from, Monk plays a chorus of the head (Mulligan noodles) plays the head again with Mulligan, comps for 2 choruses then just lays out for the rest of Mulligan’s solo and the bass solo to boot. Mulligan did very little to interact or acknowledge Monk’s comping. After the bass solo, Mulligan tries to noodle a bit behind the piano solo but seems to give up and they just take the head out. An odd album – but if you’re interested in hearing what Mulligan does over the blues, head to the transcription repository and download yourself a copy. Have a listen down below.

Mister Music BariFlex Standing Baritone Sax Stand

We have a number of saxophone harnesses and stands listed on the accessories page, but a new one was just added. This is a free-standing baritone saxophone stand that is intended for use standing up! Though I think the stand could be adjusted for use sitting as well. Its based on very sturdy drum hardware and is made in Germany. I have not had a chance to see the stand in action, so if you’d like a full review, checkout SaxophoneCentral’s full review on it.

The stand currently can only be purchased directly through their website here.

Let us know in the comments if you’ve had a chance to try it!

A new album with Gary Smulyan and Ronnie Cuber!

It seems pretty undisputed that Gary Smulyan and Ronnie Cuber are two of the greatest living titans of the baritone saxophone. They each have a long discography and incredible career. And we are fortunate to have a new album out this week that features both of them. This isn’t the first time they’ve played together or even recorded together. The album ‘Three Baritone Band Plays Mulligan’ is listed on my 5 essential listening albums page and feature both Gary and Ronnie – as well as Nick Brignola. Interestingly that band toured a bit and the great Howard Johnson could also sometimes be seen with that band.

‘Tough Baritones’ was released this week on the Danish SteepleChase label, on which you will also find a number of other records from both Gary and Ronnie. Though I find it incredibly difficult to find any actual information about this label, or about the albums. Almost like the label goes out of its way to make sure very little information can be found even after the albums are released for sale. But regardless, the album is available on streaming platforms, or if you’re like me and enjoy a physical copy that can be found on amazon here.

This album to me is very reminiscent of a period of jazz that had a huge influence on both of the leaders here. The whole album, but especially the first couple tracks bring back the vibe of Leo Parker recordings, and some of the great two saxophone albums with the likes of Jug (Gene Ammons) and Stitt (Sonny Stitt). This is largely reflected in the tune choice and feel of those songs. A lot of singing blueses and almost boogaloo type feels, as well as some classic Cuber favorite standards – ‘Nica’s Dream’ and ‘Lover’. No sign of a ballad in sight, but that’s just as well since we’re all here for the fire anyways.

If I am going to be incredibly objective, I’d say that Ronnie’s playing doesn’t quite have the fire that he may have had in his prime, but he is by no means at all unenjoyable here. He plays with fire and still shows why he has been one of the leading influences on the baritone for decades. Also if we are going to compare him to most 78 year old saxophonists, he is probably nearly the best in the world. Gary’s playing is top notch and while connoisseurs of the baritone will easily tell their styles apart, they both approach the music with considerable force.

Recording quality wise, having been fortunate to sit right in front of both of their bells in person, it seems to me that the recording captured Gary’s sound a bit more accurately. Ronnie’s mix on the record feels a little distantly recorded. Otherwise the sound of the album is excellent, the two baritonists are panned separately left (Cuber) and right (Smulyan) to help differentiate further. They got a great rhythm section to back the front men. Gary Versace on piano, Jay Anderson on bass, and Jason Tiemann on drums.

I think anyone with an interest in jazz or baritone saxophone, (let alone those at this site that are likely interested in both) should probably head directly to their nearest music provider and check out this album from the royalty of jazz bari sax.

Yamaha finally adds Custom baritone!

We wrote earlier this year about Yamaha releasing a new intermediate level baritone. Well, it seems like this is the year for Yamaha and the baritone. They have finally released a baritone on their “Custom” line of instruments, which is their highest professional level instruments. This model will be the YBS-82. One of the most important features of the new model is a choice of hand made neck – more on that in just a bit. In addition to neck choice there are six different finishes –  lacquer and plating options,  and additional key options (can be ordered without high F#). The bell will be one piece construction as opposed to the YBS-62’s two piece. Key buttons will be mother of pearl, as opposed to most Yamaha’s polyester/plastic buttons.

There are some important changes and improvements from the existing horns as well. Ergonomic improvements, and a shorter bell! The shorter bell is a welcome change, both for tuning and size reasons. Not only has Yamaha released two completely new models of baritone but they have also announced the YBS-62II! This will replace the current YBS-62 with many of the same ergonomic improvements. Both the YBS-82 and YBS-62 will come with an integrated, but removable peg to make the horn easier to play while sitting down.

Custom Necks!

Custom necks are all the rage right now, players are finally discovering how much of a difference the neck of a saxophone can make. Both by changing materials, bore, plating etc. So the most exciting news here could be that Yamaha is offering a custom hand made neck with the new YBS-82. But also that they will have these necks for sale a la carte as well, and that these necks will work with any current Yamaha baritone! Pricing starting at $366 – which is actually incredibly cheap compared to current custom neck options. They will offer three different bore/taper sizes (C [small], E [medium], V [large]), and 6 finish options. This could be an amazing way to spruce up or improve your current Yamaha horn. I also wonder if… maybe these custom necks could work on Selmer baritones? I’m hoping someone can try this out sometime and let us know!

How does it play?

I was offered the chance to try a new ‘secret’ baritone from Yamaha at the Navy Sax show in January of this year. I was floored, and which I had gotten to spend more time playing it. The horn felt great under the fingers, but I was most blown away by the neck options and how different the tapers felt. I am so glad that Yamaha has finally entered the truly top end range of saxophones that they had already done with their soprano, alto, and tenor lines! 

Andrew Gutauskas releases second album

Intrepid baritonist, Andrew Gutauskas has released his second album titled, “Look Out!“. This comes after his first album “Look Up!” from 2017. Perhaps in the future we’ll see “Look Within!” to finish out the trilogy? [ Feel free to use that Andrew 😉 ]

Gutauskas is a wonderful player and composer and the music on this album is very uplifting and positive, much like the leader himself. The line-up is a baritone, bass, and drums with trombone added on some tracks. A classic no-chord sound harking back to the Gerry Mulligan / Bob Brookmeyer quartets, though the songs and playing here will sound a bit more modern.

Check out the video below for a taste of the album. And of course I’d encourage you to head over to Andrew’s BandCamp page to buy a copy!

Frank Basile’s new release, out today

I have often stated my admiration for Frank Basile, for his playing, as well as his knowledge of the history and tradition of Jazz. He is my first choice when I am looking for advice or information about the history of the baritone saxophone. But he is not just a trove of knowledge, his playing is fantastic and he has fully absorbed a huge trove of jazz language and tradition. One of the last concerts I saw before the current pandemic forced closings was a group he co-led with Gary Smulyan – it was great. When I found out that Frank had a recording in the works with tenor saxophonist, Sam Dillon I knew it would be excellent. I’ve been fortunate enough to hear Sam play for years and even sit in some big band sections with him. In a world full of tenor saxophonists, he is a monster that stands out.

So today, August 7th, 2020 Frank and Sam have released their album “Two Part Solution” on the Cellar Live label. I just got done ordering my copy and can’t wait for it to arrive. I’ve already heard most of the album and it is indeed great. The playing, the recording (recorded at the legendary Rudy Van Gelder’s in Englewood Cliffs, NJ), the arrangements, everything is good. The songs include some original compositions by both Frank and Sam. Though Jazz fans will also enjoy their take on the classic “Two Bass Hit”

I would really recommend getting a copy of this album, you can do so directly at Frank’s website (the best way to support artists!):
https://www.frankbasilemusic.com/product-page/two-part-solution-cd

Essential and Deeper Listening Lists

After much skull sweat, and deliberating I would like to unveil two new articles.

The first is a list of 5 Essential Baritone Saxophone Albums. This list is intended to be a sort of primer for those looking to dip their toes into the deep pool that is the history of the baritone saxophone. I’ve done my best to distill 5 albums that are probably the most influential for the baritone saxophone in jazz. Not necessarily the absolute pinnacle of artistry, but good starting places for future fans of the big horn.

The second article is one that veterans of this website will find more interesting. Its a ‘Deeper’ Dive into the baritone saxophone. These are albums and/or players you may not have heard of but may find very exciting. The list goes from slightly past the main stream to extreme niche, so there should be something new there for just about everyone. Since this type of list in inherently far more subjective I reached out to some very prominent baritone saxophonist of today to get their input as well. So you can see what each had to add.

Whether you’ve come to this site for an initial foray into the baritone saxophone or are looking to delve quite deep, I hope there’s something here new and exciting for you.

Andrew Hadro
Curator, JazzBariSax.com