review

Origin : Marici Saxes: CD

This review was published on: December 29th 2020
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Origin
Marici Saxes
Saxophone Records

It’s easy to forget that the saxophone quartet is still a relative newcomer on the 250-year-old chamber music scene. On the one hand this is liberating, with few conventions or ‘mustplay’ repertoire expected on concert or CD programmes; but on the other it is restrictive, with a recurring need to pitch the merits of the ensemble against long-established chamber music heavyweights like the string quartet or piano trio. The practical result for most saxophone quartets is a balancing act between musical accessibility and integrity – a commercial necessity as much as an artistic choice.

Marici Saxes are a fine example. Formed in 2010, the London-based combo of Sarah Field (soprano), Fiona Asbury (alto), Hannah Riches (tenor) and Josie Simmons (baritone) have established themselves as a go-to saxophone quartet across the classical music market, comfortably hopping between the studios of Classic FM and BBC Radio 3.

Their latest album, Origin, celebrates the quartet’s 10th anniversary, but it is still only their second disc. As is increasingly the norm, Marici were already doing the rounds on social media long before the release of their debut album, Light, in 2017. The stats are impressive: their video of Piazzolla’s Libertango, first posted in 2012, has amassed over 600,000 YouTube views, with over 1.5 million total views of their videos online.

Marici’s first album mainly consisted of arrangements of film music and a good handful of ‘classical favourites’, such as Fauré’s Pavane and Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise. This new disc is also a compilation, but with much more of a thread to the programme: music from around the world. It’s jampacked, with 18 tracks including both original works and arrangements of folk music from Scotland, Native America,
the Balkans and China.

The PR for the quartet’s first album claimed it will ‘redefine everything you knew about the saxophone quartet’ – a common tagline for new saxophone quartets and solo saxophonists entering the market. But the clichés are fewer on this second album. Even the more accessible or ‘easy-listening’ tracks, such as Michael Nyman’s soundtrack to Wonderland or Peter Maxwell Davies’s Farewell to Stromness – written as a response to a proposed uranium mine in his hometown in Orkney – are more authentic and engaging than the classical favourites on the quartet’s first album.

The highlight of this new disc is Aurora, a new trio of pieces written by Marici’s baritone player, Josie Simmons. In the liner notes, she writes: ‘I’ve always been influenced by a large variety of genres, from classical and jazz through to rock. As with a lot of music these days, Aurora doesn’t fit into one box; it has all sorts of elements combined.’ There’s certainly a lot going on – pounding bass lines, jazz solos, a lyrical alto cadenza, oscillating minimalist textures – but the music never sounds pastiche or disjointed. It’s a perfect showcase for the skills of Marici’s individual players as well as the stylistic diversity of a saxophone quartet.

As it happens, another highlight on the disc is Simmons’ energetic arrangement of Tayal – a traditional Chinese folk song arranged for sopranino, two sopranos and alto. The piece was performed throughout Marici’s 2019 China tour and the mix of perky accents, sprightly rhythms and use of the higher-pitched saxes instantly captures the Far East soundscape.

To give Simmons one final mention – listening back to Marici’s first album I was again drawn to one of her original compositions, Suite of Irish Folk Tunes. Like Aurora on the latest CD, the piece stands out for both its authenticity and
idiosyncratic saxophone writing. Simmons is a great asset to the group and it’s perhaps only a matter of time before we see an album dedicated solely to her works.

Bookending Origin are two pieces by the Native American flutist Raymond Carlos Nakai, arranged for four sopranos by Marici’s soprano player, Sarah Field. To recreate the echo effect of the solo Native American flute (similar sounding to panpipes) the quartet split up around the church where the CD recording took place (SJE Arts in Oxford) with each player staggering their proximity to the main microphone. It’s an effective technique, and also provides a nice contrast to the more close-miked sound on the rest of the CD.

Whatever your tastes, there’s plenty of variety and new discoveries on this disc to tick more than a few boxes for most listeners. A slickly produced album with excellent musicianship and committed playing throughout.

Michael Pearce

CASSGB members can get 20 percent off the price of this CD by logging on to www.maricisaxes.com/cass and entering the password CASS20

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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(@) cassgb.org. Tel: 01642 769 558

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