Ruby & All Things Purple - Andy Scott and Group S: CD

This review was published on: March 4th 2018

Andy Scott and Group S
Basho Records

How about an economical 17-word review? ‘Master saxophonist writes for 10 great saxophonists to play for an infinite number of saxophonists to enjoy.’

Well, this would save space for other material in our beloved single-reed journal, but would neither be 100% accurate nor do this magnificent 69-minute CD justice. Firstly, Group S (formerly known as Sax Assault) has four splendid musicians in its rhythm section (Gwilym Simcock* on piano, James Pusey on guitar, Laurence Cottle on electric bass and Elliott Henshaw on drums) supporting the nine-man sax crew. The saxophonists, including leader/composer/arranger Andy Scott, cover all principal horn sizes from sopranino to bass, and five of the CD’s 12 tracks are composed by players other than Scott. Finally, the material is arranged to give everyone headroom to express themselves. The saxists are: Scott, Rob Buckland, Krzysztof Urbanski, Simon Willescroft, Dave Graham, Mike Hall*, John Helliwell, Rob Cope*, Chris Caldwell and Jim Fieldhouse. Special guests Barbara Thompson and Jon Hiseman appear in the record’s final track ‘La Grande Image’. Artists carrying an asterisk have contributed a composition of their own, including Gwilym who has a solo track and a duo with Urbanski.

Andy explains the raison d’être of Group S: ‘Over the 25 years since Sax Assault was formed the group has developed musically from a high energy/’in your face’ assault on the ears into a vehicle able to explore musical styles, colours and sounds in greater detail and with the benefit of experience. In particular we want to harness the power and colour of large ensemble works such as ‘Sabretooth’, ‘Chapters’ and ‘Salt of the Earth’ to the intimacy of ‘Little Glass Box’ and ‘Serenade’ and the virtuosity of playing in ‘Eighteen’ and ‘Tin Can’, with musicians coming from backgrounds as diverse as contemporary classical, pop-rock and jazz improvisation.’

The album is gloriously rich in musicality, incredibly creative in track variety, liberally infused with both harmonic and improvisational skills and drenched in mind-boggling saxophone (and pianistic and electric bass) technique. But even more to delight the ears are a host of entertaining excursions into immensely accessible new music for saxophone. Not a single track is devoid of interest – even the solo piano track ‘Manyara’, from Simcock is truly masterful (shades of Keith Jarrett). Every size of horn gets a piece of the action – wonderful sopranino from Buckland, soprano from Urbanksi, alto from Graham, a superb party piece (‘Tin Can’) from Scott, tenor solos from Helliwell, Hall and Cope and bari items from Caldwell and Fieldhouse, the latter doubling on bass. There are ballads, rhapsodics, tone poems and a couple of ‘rock’ pieces – Group S are to be congratulated for their contribution to the repertoire of saxophony, together with the recording skills of Jon Hiseman’s Temple Music Studio. Most strongly recommended.

Kenneth Morris

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The Clarinet and Saxophone Society of Great Britain is a company limited by guarantee registered in England No. 3010228, whose registered office is at Flat 51, Parkview Apartments, 122 Chrisp Street, London, E14 6ET. Email: membership(@) Tel: 01642 769 558

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