Because : Rob Buckland (saxophones): CD

This review was published on: July 13th 2021

The following review is taken from the Summer 2021 issue of Clarinet & Saxophone magazine. For more reviews, news, and features from the single-reed world, join to receive our quarterly magazine and other membership benefits.

Rob Buckland (saxophones)

Rob Buckland’s recording history mostly shows him as a collaborative player, with impressive duo, chamber and large ensemble discs such as Towards The Light, Duality and Gameshow sitting alongside his output as mainstay of the distinguished Apollo Saxophone Quartet. This latest offering, however, is very much a solo endeavour, with Buckland taking on a seriously heavy workload as sole performer, curator and producer across 14 tracks. Fortunately, with help from a selection of leading British composing talent, he proves more than equal to the task.

Opening with Braemar, Graham Fitkin’s Highlands-influenced soprano work, Buckland’s soprano playing shows lightness, clarity and dexterity, eschewing the more brash side of the instrument in favour of poise and precision.

Jay Capperauld’s Deja Vu follows, exploring weighty themes of afterlife and the nature of reality through a reconstruction of the famous Bach Cello Suite Prelude, to remarkable effect. The shapes of the original Bach remain but viewed through an otherworldly implied harmony, rippling with colour trills as they rise and fall, building to a high-register climax of breathtaking intensity. It’s a gripping performance throughout its nine minutes, with Buckland demonstrating a formidably expressive range of alto playing, from eerie legato refinement all the way to thunderous altissimo.

Next comes Just Because by Gwilym Simcock, mixing declamatory soprano phrases with rhythmic sophistication and snippets of groove. Gary Carpenter’s Blue projects a more introverted character, with huge jumps and more spacious, brooding writing, realised impressively by Buckland despite the extreme range – a legacy of the work’s origin as a flute piece.

Sally Beamish’s Tom’s Turn brings a different energy; faster, twitchy and agitated, with Buckland’s alto bright and alive to the rhythmic writing. The two Julian Argüelles studies are impressive technical showcases. The first is a winding maze of harmonically complex patterns, while the second is a slower tightrope walk of huge leaps and extreme registers.

Jenni Watson’s Downpour brims with elemental force, showing virtuosity, a remarkable array of colours and clever pacing throughout. Always There, by Buckland’s long-time collaborator Andy Scott, is another excellent showcase for saxophonists’ command of the alto – simple, beautifully controlled and hypnotic.

The disc finishes with a suite of Buckland’s own works, each showcasing a particular saxophone and multi-tracked with a remarkable array of saxophone-produced sounds, from harmonic backings to rhythmic effects. The transition from the more meditative solo works is a little surprising at first, but viewed on their own terms these pieces are light, varied and impressively executed across the full range of saxes.

The bubbling minimalism of SopraMotion contrasts with the bawdy funk lines of Tenacity, the cross rhythms and soulfulness of Barança, the playfully experimental AltoGenesis and the bright shining lights of Carillino, which closes the album with a shimmering texture of remarkable sweetness.

It could be questioned whether these final tracks belong on the same disc as the first nine, with the purity of a totally ‘solo’ saxophone disc arguably diluted by these polyphonic additions. But perhaps it’s fairer to view each group of works as separate halves of a live concert, an intense and introverted first half followed by a brighter, more playful second set. And we could all do with a live gig right now.

Overall, Just Because is hugely impressive from Rob Buckland, who showcases his skills as curator, composer, performer and producer to create a diverse, engaging disc that brims with character and colour throughout.

Guy Passey


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