Westland : works for saxophone and piano: CD

This review was published on: October 28th 2020

Westland : works for saxophone and piano
Andy Scott (composer)
Timothy McAllister (saxophone)
Liz Ames (piano)

Featuring 11 compositions by the British saxophonist Andy Scott, Westland immerses the listener in a programme of huge stylistic variety and coherent curation, showcasing an eclectic selection of Scott’s best writing for his own instrument.

One of the main threads running through this project is the audible love and sincerity that Scott devotes to championing the saxophone. The passion, lyricism and tonal landscape are all compelling, through the virtuosic ensemble provided by saxophonist Tim McAllister and pianist Liz Ames. To open is Three Letter Word, a dedication to the memory of the Swedish composer-pianist Esbjörn Svensson. This work is a challenge of technical flurry and rhythmic vitality, and McAllister excels in his interpretation. Seamless transitions across registers are pitted against the more riff-based stability provided by his duo partner, creating an emotional outpouring of jazz-influenced turbulence. Rhythmic accuracy is the key to make this piece work, and it does.

Fujiko begins with a melodious, folk-like simplicity, and grows organically, weaving delicate tendrils through subtle chord changes reminiscent of those heard in Copland’s tonal palette. It pushes through changes in dynamic intensity, urging the listener to… listen. This is definitely a shorter piece that I would suggest as both a teaching tool and a beautiful recital addition.

The third offering is Sonata for Alto Saxophone and Piano: a three-movement work derived from Scott’s Sonata for Flute and Piano. Funky left-hand piano in Movement 1 anchors the soloist, who, in fine melodic fettle, has space to demonstrate his instrumental and musical prowess through strong, dynamic melody. Movement 2 opens far more experimentally, creating an aura of mindful space and presence. The solo saxophone floats, sings and patiently awaits the entry of its piano partner, until both reward the listener with a slow, legato sense of beauty through simplicity. A playful interruption by Movement 3 brings a vibrant, swift and witty vignette that seems to borrow from Françaix, Dubois, Tomasi, Milhaud… all while retaining its air of originality and distinct scherzo-like character.

Track four, Everything is Still, was written after Lemn Sissay’s poem of the same name. Gently pulsing, leaving space for expression, we are invited to enjoy an enveloping sense of calm. McAllister’s saxophone sound has been nicely produced here, and the empathic relationship he shares with the equally excellent Liz Ames makes for a sonorous and delicate rendition.

MHP: this one is short and sweet. Scott tells us in the programme note that this work is built around a Bulgarian folk-like riff, and its urgent twists, turns and undulations take the listener on a heady ride through timing shifts and rhythmic dynamism. In contrast, Respectfully Yours is a saxophone song, for want of better description. It is dedicated to the late Sir Richard Rodney Bennett.

Now, Paquito… what’s not to like? This piece is a wonderful frenzy of Cuban colour, urgency of melody and rhythm; but while McAllister certainly grabs and shakes up the essence of the piece, I have to confess, I’d love to have heard this performed by the great Paquito D’Rivera himself. The title track, Westland, sees Andy Scott revert to his first love, the tenor saxophone. An experimental celebration of the capabilities of the saxophone’s tenor voice, we are treated to a quasi-improvisatory soundscape that develops from multiphonics, featuring tonal textures, a percussive rhythmic device and colouristic flurries, all delivered with panache.

The final piece is My Mountain Top. This evocative work for saxophone and electronics again features the poetry of Lemn Sissay, and at last receives this excellent recording, albeit on soprano saxophone and not as usually performed, on tenor. I was somewhat sceptical as to how this emotive piece would work using soprano due to the tenor sounding more akin to the range of the human voice, yet McAllister approaches the work with great sensitivity. He achieves sounds of satisfying resonance and depth. Some tasteful production must be commended for the final result here, which is a warm, sinewy interweaving of lyricism and texture from both instrumentalist and narrator. What a feast of fine repertoire and performance.

Thank you, Andy Scott.

Lara C James

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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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