17 Jun 2018

New Horizons: Saxophone Love

From New Horizons, 5:00 pm on 17 June 2018

William Dart recalls some personal highlights of saxophone listening on his way to reviewing a new album from the Delta Saxophone Quartet playing arrangements of David Bowie's music from his Berlin Years.

Delta Saxophone Quartet: Chris Caldwell, Tim Holmes, Graeme Blevins, Pete Wyman

Delta Saxophone Quartet: Chris Caldwell, Tim Holmes, Graeme Blevins, Pete Wyman Photo: Delta Saxophone Quartet ex Artist website

The saxophone’s always had strong Kiwi connections for me. My grandparents and uncle all played sax in their Auckland dance band some years back and, as a teenager, I was a slave to our flickering black and white tele once a week when C’mon screened with Jimmie Sloggett as its single-reed riffmeister.

A little later in the 60s, poet and critic Wystan Curnow, writing on the new music of Black America in the magazine Comment, alerted me to the presence of John Coltrane.

The irony that ensured was delicious. While the movie of “The Sound of Music” was running for month after month, indeed year after year, at Auckland’s Plaza Theatre, I was spellbound by Coltrane and his band playing one of its tunes.  

Who might have imagined that raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens could end up sounding like this?

For a while back then I was obsessed with Coltrane and other great sax men such as Archie Shepp, Pharoah Sanders and Albert Ayler.

And by the '70s, there were new joys to be savoured in the wild and free palettes of Anthony Braxton and Marion Brown.

Brown’s 1970 Afternoon of a Georgia Faun took us into a deep south that might have been scored by the love child of Debussy and Ligeti.

Not all the saxophone on my playlists back then was quite so radical as this. It was still the heyday of Stan Getz and those sleek charts of Burt Bacharach, gilded with flugelhorn and saxophone.  

In the break of a song like "The Look of Love", you feel that a lithe sonic snake has been charmed out of its bowl when Dusty Springfield steps aside.

The Delta Saxophone Quartet has been around since 1984. I first came across its music twenty years ago in a debut album of minimalist standards from the likes of Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Michael Nyman and Terry Riley.

They've released numerous albums over the years including a couple devoted to music by prog rockers The Soft Machine and King Crimson.

The latest album, titled Bowie, Berlin and Beyond will doubtlessly make more tangible connections with a much wider audience.

Following an original concept by David Power and David Lancaster, it pursues a Bowietrail through his Berlin years, music bringing in figures like Brian Eno, Ryuichi Sakamoto and Philip Glass along the way.

If some might find the Delta’s treatment of "Heroes" a little overly classical in its cadencing, then "Breaking Glass", is every bit the whirlwind it was back in 1977 on Bowie's Low album, without any spacey electronic keyboards.

Listen to these tracks and many more by clicking the Listen button above.

Music Details

'Song title' (Composer) – Performers
Album title

'Job – A Masque for Dancing' (Vaughan Williams) – BBC Northern SO/Vernon Handley
Job – A Masque for Dancing
(Carlton Classics)

'The Old Castle, from Pictures at an Exhibition' (Mussorgsky orch Ravel) – Chicago SO/Carlo Maria Giulini


'Symphonic Dances' (Rachmaninov) – Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra / Alan Buribayev
Live Concert recording

'Must be Madison' (Woodman) – Jimmie Sloggett and The Embers
Early Rock & Roll from New Zealand Vol 9 & 10
(Collector Records)

'My Favourite Things' (Rodgers) – John Coltrane
The Heavyweight Champion: The Complete Atlantic Recordings
(Rhino/ Atlantic)

'Afternoon of a Georgia Faun' (Brown) – Marion Brown
Afternoon of a Georgia Faun

'The Look of Love' (Bacharach/ David) – Dusty Springfield
The Look of Love

'Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head' (Bacharach/ David) – Terry Adams & Marshall Allen
Ten By Two

'Brandenberg Concerto No 3' (Bach arr Schrader) – San Francisco Saxophone Quartet
Tails of the City

'Saxophobia' (Wiedoeft) – Ronald Jansen Heitmajer & The Beau Hunks
Fingerbustin’ Novelty & Swing for the Saxophone

'Mishima, 6th movement' (Glass) – Delta Saxophone Quartet
Minimal Tendencies
(Clarinet Classics)

'Dedicated to You But You Weren’t Listening' (Hopper) – The Soft Machine
The Soft Machine Volume Two

'Dedicated to You' (Hopper arr Duddell) – Delta Saxophone Quartet
Dedicated to You… But You Weren’t Listening

'DPRK 1; DPRK 2' (Der Kooij et al) – Airkraft
Pyongyang Express

'The Great Deceiver' (Fripp et al) – Delta Saxophone Quartet

'Breaking Glass' (Bowie et al arr Caldwell) – Delta Saxophone Quartet
Bowie, Berlin and Beyond

'The Laughing Gnome' (Bowie arr Revell) – Delta Saxophone Quartet
Bowie, Berlin and Beyond

'Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence' (Sakamoto arr Revell) – Delta Saxophone Quartet
Bowie, Berlin and Beyond

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