Thursday, January 26, 2012

Cannonball Big Bell Stone Series Tenor Sax

I'm always searching for the next best thing whether it's a new interesting musical concept or a mouthpiece, so a couple of months ago I couldn't resist trying a really beautiful instrument that was hanging on my local Sam Ash's sax wall. I really enjoyed playing it, and I came back a couple more times just to continue trying the horn again. I've recently had an extended two day play test of the instrument, and, though I'm not replacing my Mark VI, this particular model by Cannonball is definitely unique and a great playing experience.

The Big Bell Stone Series comes with two necks, a traditional style neck and an underslung octave key style neck called the "Fat" neck. They each provide a different playing experience, and I'll start the review by outlining their differences. The Fat neck was my preferred of the two.

The Fat Neck

What initially interested me about this horn was its similarity to the vintage Selmer Super Balanced Action tenor I used to own. The similarities are very striking. The sound, though certainly not identical to an SBA, is warm, powerful, and somewhat spread. It is also very flexible, easy to inflect in all registers including the altissimo, and able to transform from warm and lush to punchy and thick. This kind of flexibility does requires good air support, and some might find the feeling a little too free-blowing. That free-blowing element also allows extreme control over dynamics and other subtleties that you can't always control as minutely otherwise.

Here are a couple of sound clips with the Fat neck:

The Traditional Style Neck

The traditional neck is a little brighter in tone quality, but has less core to it. It is also more supportive in terms of air efficiency, which makes it feel slightly less free-blowing. It is still easy to inflect and mold the sound, however I didn't feel like I had quite the same freedom and control as I did with the Fat neck.

Here is a clip with the traditional style neck:

The Rest

The rest of the playing experience is great overall. The key work is solid. It feels slightly unique, but I was able to adjust easily to it. The biggest quirk in the key work is the distance of the left hand spatula (pinky) keys. They might have been a little too far for me. The intonation seems fantastic and easy to work with. Nothing stuck out there. Overall, this is a great horn and possibly my favorite modern horn so far.

Conclusion: A warm, flexible yet powerful, modern horn. A great playing experience.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Jonas Ganzemuller & Chris Cheek on Midnight Runner

Today I want to share a brand new record from an excellent alto and soprano saxophonist, Jonas Ganzemuller. The record, Midnight Runner, is not only Ganzemuller's debut recording as a leader, but it also features one my favorite tenor saxophonists, Chris Cheek.

To start out here is a healthy portion of the track "We Play" featuring a solo by Ganzemuller.
We Play by Ganzemuller

Ganzemuller's strengths include his strong rhythmic approach, powerful sound, virtuoso technique, and decidedly modern concept of improvisation, which are all featured in the solo above. This clip fades out at the climactic point of the solo, but the actual track continues high energy as Ganzemuller explores the entire range of the saxophone and few different tonal centers along the way. This kind of improvising is what Ganzemuller is all about. Not that he can't deliver something more subtle though! The record presents a number of different musical situations, which shows Ganzemuller's depth as a player also.

Keeping it Interesting

Influenced by tenor saxophonists like Donny McCaslin and Chris Potter, it's not a surprise that Ganzemuller invites Chris Cheek, one of the giants of modern tenor saxophone, to play on the album. Here is a clip of Ganzemuller's composition "Bachage", featuring himself on alto and Chris Cheek on tenor.

Bachage by Ganzemuller

Chris Cheek takes the first solo on this track, and from the preview above you can easily hear his unique beautiful sound and improvisational concept. Also apparent is the artistry of Ganzemuller's writing. All the compositions on Midnight Runner are Ganzemuller originals. Interestingly, the style of his compositions are varied and he uses the opportunity to explore various feels from uptempo modern postbop to dirty acoustic funkiness.

Get the Album

A new release by an awesome player -- what more could you want? Get it at iTunes, CDbaby, or Amazon.