The album "Soar" explores the soundworld consisting of the duo of Saxophone and Piano. Alastair Penman is the excellent saxophonist (on either Alto or Soprano Sax) with Jonathan Pease ably playing the supporting piano parts. The album seems to be a very personal one, taking on board different elements of the saxophonist's career with composers and influences that he has come across. Although presented here in album form, the music choices would make an excellent concert for a live audience and so it's possible to view the music from both perspectives at the same time. It was recorded in 2022 at London's Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Overall the music has a good balance between worlds, romantic-melodic vs. modern, loud vs. soft, lively vs. relaxed, but the average BPM probably leans towards the "lively" end of the spectrum. Several of the pieces could even serve as encores, showing off technical skill, so the album as a whole feels like an extended dazzling display of talent.
"Pequeña Czarda" is a lively Hungarian dance by the Spanish composer Pedro Itturalde, and a great album opener: fun, lyrical, impressionistic and a touch jazzy, and then it bounces along rhythmically, casting off variations with lots of flourishes. This is just one of several pieces on the album that would be suitable encore material. By contrast to his jazz and film work, Richard Rodney Bennett's "Four Country Dances" sees the composer sharing his unique short settings of English folk tunes, as so many composers have done with their own national folk music. "Three Letter Word" by Andy Scott is a wonderful piece which truly puts the sax through its paces. It starts with some complex cadenza-like runs and notes covering the full range of the instrument. Then there is some other more rhythmic or thoughtful material, but with the runs putting in further appearances. One wonders if the composer had a particular 3-letter word in mind... Also by Andy Scott, Penman's former mentor, "And Everything is Still" is contrastingly relaxed and melodic, beautifully song-like with some jazz chords.
The "Prelude" by French composer Robert Planel is beautifully expressive, an impressionistic and passionate work for solo sax which leads directly into the jaunty "Saltarelle" once the piano joins in. Penman's own "Soar" is the album's titular work and a lively flowing work. The cover's artwork represents this with a dramatically surreal eagle. Paul Mitchell-Davidson's "Lullaby" gives a few minutes of quiet contemplation between busy works. "Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum" from Debussy's "Children's Corner" somehow feels even more challenging on the sax than the original solo piano, but strangely suits the instrument and certainly shows off further technical skills. "Light of Sothis" by Amy Quate consists of three individual movements which are well-named, descriptive titles. "Grace" is especially beautiful and flowing, leading to the lively "Passion" which eases off into "Faith". The composer Jules Demersseman was a friend of Adolphe Sax, so the final work "Carnival of Venice" goes back to the instrument's origins. After a melodramatic piano intro, the sax introduces its familiar melody which leads into a set of fantastic virtuoso variations, nicely rounding off a varied but generally quite upbeat collection of works.
The combination of sax and piano is a good one in the hands of Penman and his pianist Jonathan Pease, and the mixture of tracks and album presentation are perfect. I can heartily recommend it to anyone looking for a varied and entertaining selection of music. More about Alastair Penman and the album can be found at the artist's website at alastairpenman.co.uk/soar, where you can also find options for streaming the music or ordering the CD.