Not all listeners warm to classical saxophonists’ smooth and seamless timbres, in contrast to the disparate individuality typifying great jazz artists. That said, Huw Wiggin’s astonishing virtuosity and mindful musicianship held me spellbound over the course of this release.
Wiggin’s prodigious breath control and suave phrasing fits hand in glove with Noriko Ogawa’s colorfully incisive pianism throughout Debussy’s Rapsodie to the point where you don’t miss the orchestra. Joseph Phibbs’ Night Paths features leisurely stretches of lyrical landscapes marked by wistful descending chromatic lines. Quasi-minimalist ostinatos help to energize the louder, more active middle section. The piece is indeed rhapsodic, and a bit overlong for what it has to say; still, it makes for pleasant listening.
Iain Farrington’s triptych Paganini Patterns is a fantasy on the 24th Paganini Violin Caprice in the form of written out jazz, and it’s to these classical performers’ credit that they can actually swing. Those familiar with Eric Coates’ unpretentious light music miniatures may be surprised at the complexity and cohesion of his Saxo-rhapsody. Here Wiggin and Ogawa display wonderful ensemble repartée, especially in how they deftly trade off passages in rapid scales.
Picture Jacques Ibert collaborating with ECM’s “atmospheric” jazz stars like the late saxophonist Jan Garbarek, and you’ll get an idea of what Jennifer Watson’s Rhapsody on an Echo Chamber is about. Given Iain Farrington’s imaginative take on Paganini, his Liszt Second Hungarian Rhapsody arrangement is surprisingly conservative and staid: I expected more vivid interaction between musicians, or even some cadenza hanky-panky. It’s an anti-climax to an otherwise enjoyable, beautifully engineered, and often fun program.