Thursday, December 30, 2010

Zoom H4N Reviewed: Sax-Related Recording

I received a request to review the Zoom H4n hand held digital recorder, and I've finally had enough time to fully explore the thing.  As far as saxophone goes the H4n is fantastic, and I'll go into the details of close micing a sax using the H4n.  Of course, its also useful for a number of other things, and I'll talk about those as well.

The H4n is one of Zoom's newer handheld recording devices, and so, of course, it needed the best features of the old device and some new features to set it apart.  What stands out from the get go is its ability to plug in two external microphones (phantom powered if you like).  You can record simultaneously with the built in mics and the two external mics, which results in a number of possibilities for making a mixable live recording.  For those of you who are wondering, you can use the accessories that come with the H4n to mount it onto any microphone stand.  Handy, right?

Another standout feature is the Zoom's new ability to do 4 track recording on the device.  Not only can you record up to 4 editable and mixable tracks but there is an easy to use click track feature and even an array of digital effects like reverbs and oscillators.  Another important mention is its ability to record in number of different WAV and mp3 formats.  The only drawback is that you cannot simultaneously use the stamina mode (two double A batteries last you 11 hours in stamina mode) and record to mp3 at the same time, but its easy enough to convert to mp3 afterward using iTunes or a similar program.  Two double A batteries in normal mode last closer to 6 hours, and you can always just plug the thing in.

Now, for all of you saxophonists, how well does the H4n record saxophone?  Well, barring the studio, this is my favorite way to close mic my saxophone, meaning playing into a microphone someplace between 6 inches to a foot from the bell.  The sound quality is fantastic and really captures the entire breadth of tone coming from the saxophone.  I like the Zoom much better than my middle class Shure condenser microphone simply for the H4n's ability to capture the full spectrum of the saxophone's tone.  If you like you're able to get a very live sound including little details like the clicking of the keys, or you can adjust the microphone sensitivity down and get a much closer to studio feeling while still capturing the entire depth of tone.  The following tracks are two examples of close micing the saxophone using the H4n.  I also used the H4n's 4 track recording capabilities to make these tracks.

My Favorite Things and Fifth to the Throne

The live setting is the most obvious place for the H4n, which it excels at.  I've recorded a number of different events, and the Zoom has surprised me with its excellent sound quality and accuracy.  The automatic microphone level adjustment feature makes live recording especially easy.  The feature prevents clipping by adjusting the microphone level lower automatically as it records.  The small let down here is that the only way to turn the microphone level back up is start recording a new track or simply turn off the feature, which could cause a problem if you were using the feature and had some uncharacteristically loud sounds in the middle of the track.  Here are two examples of live recording I've done using the H4n.  Both of these were recorded live at Chris' Jazz Cafe in Philly with my group Unconventional Riot.

Ben plays Beatrice and Introduction to Ducks In a Row

Now that you've heard all the positive, I should also inform you of the negative.  The menus and navigation system are a little elaborate and require a little exploration to get to what you need.  The features are straight forward and easy to use, but the click wheel and multiple sub menus sometime make you wish you had something a little more intuitive.

There was one particular problem I found which was very surprising.  The first 4 track recording I did I had recorded the electric piano into my computer using Audacity.  I then grabbed the WAV file and put it onto my Zoom without a hitch.  The second time I attempted this same procedure I recorded the electric piano using Cubase LE 5, which came with H4n.  When I attempted to import the WAV file the Zoom would not recognize the file.  Instead I had to use the H4n's stereo mic input to rerecorded the track directly onto the device.  I haven't spent much time trying to figure out why the H4n wouldn't recognize the WAV file produced by its accompanying Cubase software, but it wasn't anything obvious.  That has easily been my most negative expeience using the Zoom.

Conclusion: Zoom's H4n is fantastic for close micing a saxophone, and it excels at recording in live musical settings.  The positive, in this case, easily outweigh the negative including an expansive and less than intuitive menu system and some partial incompatibility with its accompanying software.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Throwdown: Yamaha's Custom EX Tenor Saxophone vs. Selmer's Reference 36 Tenor Saxophone

Last week I wrote that Yamaha's Custom Z tenor sax was similar to the Selmer Mark VI at least in the focused, warm yet punchy sound it produces. If the Custom Z reminds me of the Mark VI, Yamaha's Custom EX reminds of Selmer's Super Balanced Action even more so.

Yamaha Custom EX Tenor
I've also recently play tested a Selmer Reference 36 Tenor, which is Selmer's modern horn "built in the spirit" of their original 1936 Balanced Action (similar to the SBA in feel and tone), so I thought it would be remiss if I didn't comppare the Custom EX and the Reference 36 for all of you looking to get a saxophone similar to the SBA without paying anywhere from $6,000 (Ebay) to $14,000 (Roberto's in NYC).

For those of you who are feeling out of the loop Selmer's SBA (Super Balanced Action) is their model that came after the 1936 Balanced Action and before the 1954 Mark VI.  Both the Mark VI and SBA are two of the most coveted saxophone models of all time. For those of you who are in the loop, here is a lesser know fact for you. The SBAs were actually labeled Super Action and not Super Balanced Action by Selmer.  Despite the 'Balanced' of the previous model being formally changed to 'Super' as the new line launched, Super Balanced Action is the name most of the sax community uses today.

Before I get started I should mention that I originally played the Custom EX with its Custom G3 neck, which was good, but the EX played even better with the Custom G1 neck I borrowed from the nearby Custom Z.  I believe you can get the best results out of the EX with the Custom G1 neck, and I'll go into the details on the necks later.


The Custom EX's tone is similar to an SBA.  The tone is big and a little spread.  There are plenty of deep overtones present in the tone also similar to the SBA.  I believe the SBA has a little more core or meat to the tone than the EX, but there is a marked similarity between the two.

The Reference 36 tone reminds me more of a Mark VI than an SBA or the earlier Balanced Action.  It has a big focused tone and sounds less spread than an SBA.  The Reference 36 tone has plenty of core or meat to it.  Its tone reminds me a lot of Yamaha's Custom Z which I reviewed last week.

Response and Feel

Selmer Reference 36 Tenor
The Custom EX really shines in the feel of blowing through the horn.  It is very free blowing and has very little back pressure.  Its not quite as free blowing as my SBA but it comes closer than most modern horns I've played. This means the Custom EX requires more air support and focus, much like a vintage horn, to maintain a supported tone as you move from note to note.  A horn with more back pressure or resistance requires less air support and focus for quick response from note to note, one of the advantages and what some consider to be a crutch of most modern horns.  That crutch can also be a disadvantage because it often results in a less malleable tone.  The free blowing feel of the Custom EX does require the added air support and focus, but it also adds a greater flexibility and range of color to the tone.

A quick note on the Yamaha necks - The main reason I prefered the Custom G1 neck over the Custom G3 neck is because it provided a nice balance between a free blowing feel and quick response while moving up and down the horn.  The G3 neck didn't respond quite as quickly.  The
G1 neck also provided a little more core to the sound.

Selmer's Reference 36 seems to take the more modern approach.  It feels less free blowing than an SBA, your average Mark VI and the Custom EX.  This results in a quick and easy response while moving from note to note, again similar to the Custom Z I reviewed last week. Though it comes closer than many modern horns it doesn't really recreate the feel of blowing through a vintage horn like a Mark VI, SBA or Balanced Action.

Conclusion:  In my opinion, Yamaha's Custom EX comes closer than Selmer's Reference 36 to feeling and sounding like the SBA or Balanced Action tenors of yesteryear. Saxes vary even within models, so take this conclusion with a grain of salt and try them for yourself!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Ben Britton's Unconventional Riot

A little shameless self promotion and a short recording for your enjoyment:

I've started a new group, and we're playing our first show this coming Tuesday at Chris' Jazz Cafe in Philly.  For more details on that head over to the facebook page or my website.

So,  I recorded a demo today (on keys and sax) of one of the compositions we'll be playing, Fifth to the Throne.

Ben plays Fifth to the Throne

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Quick Tip #1: Pull Your Neck Strap Up

Just a quick lesson for young and old alike.  Adjust your neck strap up high enough so that your head doesn't lean or tilt down at all when you play the instrument.  This will aid you in producing a fully supported tone.

Throughout the history of the saxophone we have heard unsupported tones from amateur and even professional saxophone players, but the best players, even the ones with a much more inflected approach  like Sonny Rollins or Grant Stewart for example, play with fully supported tones.

Adjusting your neck strap won't fix all your problems, but it will make a notable difference.

Sound Clips: (Sorry for the soft talking!)

Neck Strap Down (head tilting down slightly)
Neck Strap Up (Head level or slightly up)

Friday, December 10, 2010

Yamaha Custom Z Tenor Saxophone

This past Saturday I got to play Yamaha's Custom Z and EX tenor saxophones.  I know Yamaha is a highly recommended brand, so I wanted to throw in my two cents for anyone who is thinking about buying one.  Today, I'll tackle the Custom Z and you can expect to see something on the Custom EX next week.

The Custom Z, in my estimation, is Yamaha's attempt at a Selmer Mark VI similar to the Reference 54, Selmer's most recent attempt to recreate their Mark VI model saxophone from the 50s, 60s and 70s.  The good news is that it has all the modern conveniences you would expect from a horn made today.  The intonation is of modern design, which is more naturally in tune than most vintage horns.  It has a high F# key, which many people find convenient, and it has Yamaha's modern style key work, which will feel perfectly comfortable for anyone coming from another Yamaha or similar saxophone.  The bad news is that Yamaha has not managed to recreated the free-blowing resistance-free feel so important to the Mark VI and other similar vintage horns.

The tone quality is similar to the Mark VI.  It's focused, punchy, clear and remains even throughout the horn.  The response of the horn however, though more free-blowing than many horns on the modern market, does have more back pressure or resistance than many vintage horns including the Mark VI.  The Custom Z's altissimo register also feels resistant though the overtone series feels effortless and sounds beautiful in all registers of the horn.

The key work matches the rest of the Yamaha horns and feels equally as convenient as other modern key work designs.  The horn's overall design conveniently allows for the traditional altissimo fingerings using the front fork F as a launching pad up through altissimo G and eventually reaching the palm keys for altissimo B through D and again for E through G above that.

Conclusion: The Yamaha Custom Z tenor is a throwback to the Mark VI that lives up to its aspirations in the sound department but is somewhat too resistant to really feel like a modern Mark VI.  It will almost definitely appeal to the saxophonist who feels more at home on modern horns but wants the Mark VI sound.

Monday, December 6, 2010

My Favorite Things

I started experimenting with my new zoom recorder and I've managed to coax a fantastic recording quality out of it as a direct sax mic (Not that I had to do much).  The following is an arrangement of "My Favorite Things" that I recorded on it.  I recorded the electric piano-rhodes sound directly into the computer and then overdubbed the sax using my zoom.  I apologize for the slight clipping on the electric piano-rhodes during one section of the tune.  I didn't catch it until I was too far into the recording to want to start over.

MP3 - My Favorite Things MP3 and a high quality WAV file of the track - My Favorite Things WAV

I would like to make recordings like this more often.  If you'd like to hear more of my music please donate 99 cents or whatever amount of money you'd like toward my next track using the pay pal donation button below.  I'll be posting tracks on the regular basis, and with your support I could even hire other musicians to play with me.  Thanks to all who support my music!

Rico Final Episode: Rico Reserve Classic Alto Reeds

Today's subject, and the final Rico product in a series of reviews, is the Rico Reserve Classic alto reed.  This is a brand new reed Rico has recently designed and released, and it is being advertised as the "most consistent reed available".  I'll be examining the reed and that important claim.  It's also important to note that the classic reed is only available for Alto saxophone though the normal reserve reed is availble on the other saxophones.

The reeds' tone could be described as pure, balanced, and slightly dark. At softer strengths the dark overtones are less pronounced, and naturally as you progress to a harder reed strength the sound darkens.  I found I could play on either a 2.5 or a 3 reed strength and the 2.5 varied in its the darkness of the tone while the 3's weere consistently slightly dark. The tone seems most appropriate for classical playing, and most would probably find that the tone isn't punchy or fat enough for a jazz setting.

The reeds response and flexibility is fantastic though somewhat variable.  The box of 2.5 strength reeds I played through had a couple reeds that responded very easily to articulation and inflection, a majority that responded well, and a few duds that seemed unresponsive and even became less responsive in the lower register.  The box of 3 strength reeds I played on had more consistensy in their responsiveness and flexibility.  They tended to respond very quickly and easily from the bottom of the horn to the top.  In general the reeds sing into the altissimo register and feel effortless as you ascend into that extreme upper range.

Finally, let's examine the claim that these are the most consistent reeds available.  They do seem to be very consistent, but, as I have described above, the box of 2.5 strength reeds was somewhat inconsistent.  I had 7 or 8 good reeds and 1 or 2  less responsive reeds.  Happily, only one reeds was unplayable due to being so soft it sounded unsupported.  The strength of the reeds was pretty consistent overall. The box of 3 strength reeds was very consistent and the box of 2.5 strength reeds was pretty consistent.  I think the lessons here is that no matter how consistent the cane and cut is there are still other factors that also determine overall reed consistensy.

Conclusion:  These are pure and slightly dark sounding reeds most suitable for the classical saxophonist.  They are very consistent though no cane reed can claim 100% consistency yet.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Rico Reviews Episode 2: Filed vs. Unfiled (Rico Jazz Select)

Continuing with the products Rico was kind enough to provide free of charge, today I’d like to pit the unfiled and filed  Rico Jazz Select reeds in a battle to the death.

Overall, the Rico Jazz Selects are good reeds, but I wanted to get into the dirty details of the differences and similarities between the cuts. I broke the battle down into three main categories: tone quality, response, and consistency.

Tone Quality
Unfiled: Deep slightly spread tone with enough vibrance to give the sound some presence, even tone throughout range and dynamics

Filed: Focused vibrant tone with more highs than lows, even tone throughout range and dynamics

Unfiled: Feels easy to play through and responds promptly to articulation

Filed: Feels slightly more resistant than the unfiled reeds, responds even more quickly to articulation

Unfiled: Often needs to be soaked/warmed up, variable reed quality (like most brands...), pretty consistent reed strength

Filed: Often plays out of the box, some variability in reed quality but less variability than the unfiled reeds, pretty consistent reed strength

Play Test
Unfiled: Ben Plays Donna Lee

Filed: Ben Plays Donna Lee again

Conclusion: The two cuts offer different tone qualities with neither lacking in presence.  The other differences between the two cuts, though many, are almost negligible once you have decided on the cut that best fits the kind of sound you're going for.  The one drawback for both cuts, especially the unfiled, is the inconsistency in reed quality.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Rico Reviews Episode 1: Rico Metalite Mouthpiece

After my review of their orange box reeds, Rico was kind enough to send over some samples of their products free of charge including the Metalite mouthpiece.   Expect a little more Rico in the near future as well.

$25.  That is usually the cheapest price you can pay for a playable mouthpiece.  $25 is also about the highest price you’ll pay for a Rico Metalite mouthpiece judging from the price listings on Google Shopping.  It was quite a surprise to find out that the mouthpiece is also very good.

The sound, which to me is one of the most important selling points of any mouthpiece, is full bodied with a nice mix of highs and lows.  The mouthpiece leans toward the highs, which makes sense as its suppose to be providing the brilliance of a metal mouthpiece in a non-metal format, but it isn’t overly bright.  There is enough edge in the tone to give it presence and sound complete.  The mouthpiece does retain its tone quality at different dynamic ranges, and with a good reed you can really push it dynamically without worrying about the tone breaking up.

The mouthpiece does require a fair amount of jaw or embouchure pressure to produce the tone and respond well to articulation.  This also means that the mouthpiece is very sensitive to changes in jaw and embouchure pressure, and inflections and bends are easy to produce.  For an intermediate or advanced player the needed pressure and control wouldn't be a problem, but a younger player or a beginner might find these aspects of the mouthpiece challenging.

Here is a sound clip I blew playing an M7 Rico Metalite Tenor mouthpiece and a rico orange box 3 1/2 reed:

Ben plays Cherokee

Conclusion: This is a good vibrant mouthpiece at a very cheap price that delivers on its promise.  It's probably best suited for intermediate or advanced players.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

A Surprising Turn of Events: Rico Reeds, the Orange Box Reviewed

I would have never guessed these reeds would turn out to be a part of my regular setup, but they have now been on my mouthpiece every day for a week.  Three gigs and counting...

I have been playing the orange box reeds on my Florida Otto Link metal mouthpiece, and I get a full and balanced tone throughout the registers of the horn.  There is enough bite and vibrance to cut, but the tone isn't too bright or edgy either.  I should also mention that I place my ligature toward the back of the mouthpiece, and reeds can sound a little thin if I place the ligature further to the front.

The response of the reeds is fantastic though they need to be pushed a little more in the low end to get the same easy feeling as the rest of the range.  Climbing into the altissimo register feels very easy.  The extreme flexibility and ease of play does have a down side.  The reeds don’t last as long as other types of reed which are made with a less flexible cane.

As far as reed consistency goes, I’ve now played on six orange box reeds and I’ve only had one that I would not play on a gig.  That being said there is a great degree of variation between reed strengths in a single box.  I’m playing on size 3 ½ reeds and the strengths have ranged from almost too easy to almost too hard.  There does seem to a fair amount of inconsistency in that respect.

I’ll let you all judge for yourself.  Here are a couple of sound clips for your critical ears.  First, is a full range-ish chromatic scale, and the second is a blues.

Full Range-ish Chromatic Scale

Ben Plays the Blues

Conclusion: Rico orange box reeds are surprisingly good when combined with the right setup.  They can produces a full and balanced tone.  On the negative side the reeds don’t last as long as some other types, and they are fairly inconsistent in terms of reed strength.

Ben's New Setup: 3 ½ Orange Box Rico Reeds, 7* Florida Metal Otto Link, Selmer Super Action Tenor

Friday, November 5, 2010

Cannonball Vintage Pro Series Tenor

I’ve never known a saxophone to have a mental disorder, but this one sure comes close! More on that later.

I saw this Cannonball Vintage Pro tenor sax on the wall in Sam Ash with its beautiful deep amber laquer just begging to be played. The vintage look and profile screamed Mark VI, so I thought I’d see how close Cannonball had gotten. Just holding the horn in my hands let me know something was different. The key work filled up my medium sized hands, much like the key work on modern horns. I am accustomed to the smaller feel of vintage horns, but the Cannonball’s key work still felt very good. My fingers laid naturally onto the keys. Nothing felt quirky or out of place.

Playing the horn felt much like playing a Selmer Reference 54. It felt fairly free blowing, but not as free blowing as a true vintage horn. Some would find that a disadvantage and others would like the slightly more resistant feel. The tone was very similar to a Mark VI, possibly a little brighter but still very focused, until I reached octave key B. At this point the saxophone transformed, and the tone became much brighter and little edgier. This strangely transformed tone continued up into the altissimo range of the horn. Now that was a weird experience, and it was the first time I’ve come across such a defined boundary line. Octave key A and down had a nice Mark VI-ish sound, and Octave key B and up sounded like an entirely different horn. I did not have the chance to play another Cannonball Vintage Pro horn, so I cannot say if this is a odd one time event or whether this is the general tendency of the horns. I can recommend vigorously play testing any horn before you make a final purchase!

Conclusion: This is a great looking horn that feels good in your hands. It sounds like a vintage horn up to a certain point, but unfortunately it loses that characteristic vintage sound when your reach the upper register.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Buescher True Tone Tenor Sax & V16 Metal Tenor Mouthpiece

Sometimes the stars align and a vintage Buescher True Tone Tenor from 1921 just falls into your lap free of charge.  At least, that’s what happened to me last week.  My brother was given the horn by a random listener while playing a gig at a farmer’s market.  It was his intention to sell the thing, but it was so banged up that he decided it wasn’t worth his time.  So, I’m now the proud owner of my first ever pre-1950s horn.

The horn came in its original case, which also stored two vintage mouthpieces, a Buescher hard rubber that I’m assuming came with the horn and an early model Selmer hard rubber that looks much more played on.  They both have very small tip openings typical of mouthpieces of that time period, and they are virtually unplayable without strength five and a half reeds.  The unplayable mouthpieces will not be making the review today, however I will do my best to provide a complete and modern perspective on the vintage Buescher horn.

Buescher True Tone Tenor (1921)

Let’s start with the positive.  The horn has a beautiful warm sound, which is uniform from the bottom to the top of the horn and maintains its integrity from soft to loud.  The sound is less spread than a Selmer Super (Balanced) Action, but not quite as as focused as the average Mark VI.  These sound traits give the sax its own unique territory when measuring up against its vintage contemporaries.  The horn has the free-blowing feel you would expect from a vintage sax, and even with the leaks its feels great to play.  The lower register does feels more resistant and becomes more and more free-blowing as you reach the top of the horn’s range.  The altissimo register inherits the easy feeling of the high register and feels effortless to play.  The feeling of blowing through the horn and the sound that comes out is great, but the rest is not so great.

On the negative side, the horn’s key work is from the dinosaur-age.  The upper and lower stacks (left and right hands) are not offset, meaning you have to bring your right hand further and uncomfortably around the horn.  The G#, low C#, low B, low Bb keys are ill placed and require more finger strength than average.  The octave mechanism is raised higher than the thumb rest making it less convenient and less comfortable. The D palm key is much too low, and the list continues.  The G# is dependant of the rest of the key work much like a clarinet, so that you have to either press the G# key only when playing G# or use an interesting but poorly positioned key in between the E and the F key which closes the G# for you.  The clincher is that the horn is missing a front high F key.  Throughout the decade following 1921 the front high F did become a standard on True Tones, but sadly my horn predates the standardization of the front high F key.  This dinosaur-age key work makes the horn less than desirable when compared to the numerous saxophones available to the modern player.

Here are two clips I recorded to give you an idea of the horn’s inherent sound qualities.  The first clip is of me playing the Buescher, and the second is of me playing my Super (Balanced) Action for comparison.  I tried to start them in a similar vein, but it really just ended up being me playing around and having fun.

Ben playing his Buescher True Tone

Ben playing his Selmer Super-Action

Conclusion: Though this warm and easy playing vintage horn sounds great its dinosaur-age key work make the horn undesirable when compared to many other saxophones.

V16 Metal Tenor (T75)

In each of these review I want to include a piece of equipment easily available to you, so though completely unrelated to the Buescher I’m taking on the V16 Metal tenor mouthpiece here as well.

This mouthpiece plays most appropriate for an electrified setting.  In an acoustic setting I’m afraid its top heavy mix of highs and a few lows would seem out of place.  I can safely call this a bright mouthpiece.  There is a fair amount of edge especially when I was playing with a filed Rico Jazz Select.  When I switched to an unfiled Select the edge converted into a kind of buzz.  The edge/buzz is not overpowering as in
some mouthpieces, but it is definitely present.

The mouthpiece takes a medium amount of air, though I wouldn’t call it resistant except in the lower register of the horn.  This slight resistance in the mouthpiece gives it an even tone from piano to fortissimo and gives the altissimo register some real strength.  That’s definitely a fair trade in my book.

Conclusion: This is a bright mouthpiece with its inherent tone quality bordering on thin, however the tone does retain its integrity throughout the range and dynamics of the saxophone.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Jody Jazz Tenor HR* and Classic Mouthpieces Reviewed

Well, I wanted to pick a theme for my first review, and I thought it was going to be ‘Jody Jazz Hard Rubber Mouthpieces,’ but come to find out the Classic model, which in at least one of its two colors looks an awful lot like a hard rubber mouthpiece, is actually formed from a “proprietary polycarbonate alloy with a synthetic rubber mix.”  So, all my dreams have been ruined, but we’ll get on with the review anyhow.

Jody Jazz HR* Tenor

Some hard rubber mouthpieces have both feet firmly planted in a dark round room with sound absorbent materials covering every surface so that the only edge you hear is when you bite the reed and play ff.  The Jody Jazz HR* Tenor mouthpiece is in a different room than those afore mentioned hard rubber pieces.  Jody’s HR* has a dark-heavy blend of dark and bright overtones.  This piece is not bright by any means, but the tone does have a strong presence due to some brighter overtones and a slight edge. The dark edge gives the mouthpiece a kind of smoky sound and gives it a unique sound stamp.  That sound stamp also proves to be the piece’s one weakness, but no mouthpiece is perfect, right?

The piece is effortless from low B-flat up to the upper echelon of the altissimo range whether playing softly, loudly, subtone, or full-tone.  The sound remains full in the entire range of the horn, and the altissimo range retains a full body tone, which isn’t true of every mouthpiece as we’ll see later on.  When tonguing the mouthpiece responds quickly giving it a light on its feet feeling.  Unfortunately, the mouthpiece does break up when nearing the ff dynamic range.  The smoky sound becomes slightly edgier or reedier and less pleasant, but this could vary with a harder strength reed or possibly a different brand of reed.

The dark-heavy mix of dark and bright overtones would lend well to many settings.  I wouldn’t want to use it in a more contemporary fusion or funk setting, but George Garzone would beg to differ (and he always sounds great).

Conclusion:  The piece has a nice mix of dark and bright overtones in a mainly round, dark, and strong sound setting .  However, there is a reedy side that comes out when you really push the piece.

Jody Jazz Classic Tenor

The Classic model is somewhat of an enigma to me.  You can buy the sleek looking mouthpiece in traditional black or in a transparent bold red, which was all fine and good until I had different playing experiences with the two colors of what should be the same mouthpieces.  Both the red and black mouthpieces were marked with the same tip opening size and of identical shape.  However, there were some physical differences to the mouthpieces.  The red one was noticeably bigger, was much looser on my cork than the black piece, and came with the removable baffle currently advertized on the Jody Jazz Classic Tenor’s website page.  So, I’ll have to proceed on the premise that there is something different about these two particular pieces.  Maybe the black one is an older edition of the mouthpiece or something along those lines.  I’ve emailed Jody Jazz and I’ll post an update when I know more about the situation.  Without further ado...

Update:  Jody Espina had the following to say on the general approach to playing his mouthpieces and observed difference between the mouthpieces:

"Very nice review, thank you.  . . . it would be nice to know the tip opening and especially the reed strength. I find that when people are coming from other mouthpieces that aren't as free blowing they tend to use a softer reed and when they play a free blowing piece their reed is too soft to do the mouthpiece justice, especially in the high register. This is even more true on our DV and DV NY series where you definitely have to go up in reed strength to get the most out of the mouthpiece.

I can't explain the difference in those two pieces as the bore should be exactly the same. As far as the missing spoiler goes the store must have msiplaced it or had it stolen. Sam Ash has told us that our mouthpieces are the #1 stolen mouthpiece for them. 

Thanks again for the review,
Jody Espina - President

The tip opening and reed strength can be found in the comment section now.

Ruby Red

Like I mentioned earlier, this mouthpiece sits looser on my cork.  Looser than the HR*, looser than the black Classic, looser than my Florida Otto Link, and looser than many other mouthpieces I’ve played on.  What does that mean?  I have no idea, but I’m giving you fair warning that you might need a new cork if you buy one of these.

More seriously, this is a great playing mouthpiece.  It’s another easy to play free-blowing mouthpiece, though in my experience it is slightly more resistant than the HR*.  That slight resistance only helps the mouthpiece as I can push it to ff without any real change in the tone quality. The tone quality is also constant from low Bb up until the altissimo register where the sound quality does change.  The altissimo register plays easily on the mouthpiece, but unfortunately it loses some of its depth of tone.  With practice I’m guessing this could be overcome, at least in large degree, but I definitely noticed that of the 3 Jody Jazz mouthpieces I play tested, this one has the most noticeable tone quality change when playing altissimo.

The removable baffle that comes with the mouthpiece basically give you two mouthpieces in one. Without the removable baffle the tone has a nice balanced mix of dark and bright overtones, and the tone quality is generally round and vibrant.  There is a slight edge in the sound, but it's just enough to enhance the sound quality and give it a strong presence.  With the removable baffle in place the highs of the sound are brought to the forefront, and the piece’s edginess is also increased.  The tone goes from a sound you might expect from a traditional or modern jazz musician to a tone you'd expect to hear from a contemporary smooth jazz musician or even a rock saxophonist.  Basically, you have got options.  All of that said, the highs emphasized by the removable baffle are not as vibrant as you what you would get from a metal mouthpiece designed for that purpose.

Conclusion: This is another easy to play free-blowing mouthpiece with a balanced mix of highs and lows.  Without the spoiler you’ve got just enough highs and edge, and with the spoiler you’ve entered the funk, smooth jazz, and even rock scene though you might really want a metal mouthpiece for those musical situations.  The only downside to the mouthpiece was its thinner though easy to play altissimo register.

Classic Black

This mouthpiece does not have a removable baffle in the box, and honestly, it does not need one.  It's bright and edgy from the get-go.  It is edgier than even the red Classic with the removable baffle in place.  To my ears the mouthpiece sounds a little thin and was lacking some of the darker overtones it needs to complete the sound.  The mouthpiece would definitely cut due to its bright and edgy nature, and it would appeal to saxophonists who need that ability and are looking to do it with a non-metal mouthpiece.

Despite the differences in sonic qualities the black Classic does have all the same free-blowing qualities of the red model.  It's easy to play from bottom to top and at all dynamics.  The altissimo register is easy to play, and the mouthpiece fully maintains its depth of tone in the upper register unlike the red Classic.

Conclusion:  This is a bright and edgy mouthpiece and is meant to cut.  Though a little thin sounding it maintains its sonic integrity from soft to loud and from low to the altissimo register.  It would be an easy alternative for a musician looking for a cutting mouthpiece in a non-metal format.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this first review or found it helpful.  Comments are welcome.

Test Setup: Jody Jazz Tenor HR* with Vandoren Optimum ligature and Rico Jazz Select Filed reeds, Jody Jazz Tenor Black & Red Classics with Rovner and normal 2 screw metal ligatures and Rico Jazz Select Filed reeds.

Normal Setup: Metal Florida Otto Link with Vandoren Optimum ligature and Rico Jazz Select Filed reeds.