I have lost count of the number of albums entitled "At The Movies" but this new edition to that growing lineup is one of the most entertaining. The eponymous Five Sax is a group of saxophonists from the USA (Joel Digert), Poland (Michal Knot), Belgium (Pieter Pelens), Italy (Damiano Grandesso) and Chile (Alvaro Collao). They got together in Vienna, first street busking (I've done this myself) and eventually consolidated their 'act' into a stage show, featuring music from many eras and locales – not just film music – combining acting, costumes and theatrical lighting. Joined on some tracks by percussion (Rupert Struber), trombone (Zoltan Kiss) and piano (alternately, Jacek Obstarczyk and Mariam Vardzelashvili), the ensemble plays most of the sax pitches (soprano, alto, tenor, baritone and bass) between them and they use a mostly classical tone, blending well with each other. Using embouchure (mouth shape and facial muscles) and breath control, the guys cover the full range of the sax and beyond, including altissimo fingering, to get notes outside the standard two and a half octave compass.
Five Sax's swashes are firmly buckled, as they lead off with a Pirates Medley, including Klaus Badelt's "Pirates of the Carribean", Erich Korngold's "Captain Blood", John Williams' "Hook" and John Debney's "Cutthroat Island". Contrasting this, are five tracks from Laurel and Hardy shorts, composed by Leroy Shield, including the duo's signature tune, Cuckoo, so you get a 1920/1930s style of sax playing.
This is followed with "8 1/2" by Nino Rota and then two by Ennio Morricone – Gabriel's Oboe from "The Mission" (becoming "Gabriel's saxophone"!) and then Playing Love from "The Legend of 1900" or "La Leggenda del Pianista sull'Oceano", depending on your preference! For the latter piece, the original's piano is preserved, with the saxophones dipping in and out, with some subtoned harmonies, before taking on the theme further along. Many of Morricone's often gorgeous melodies are, I believe, ripe for interpretation by the saxophone.
We then get Married Life from "Up", well suited to this ensemble's performance and Michael Giacchino's melody shines. The fellows also emulate the strings of "Psycho", both pizzicato and arco, by playing with a short, sharp staccato and smooth legato in the short suite, which of course includes The Murder and you'd be hard pushed to tell those shrieking sounds weren't the original's violins, unless you really listen closely. Indeed, I'd been thinking of adapting Psycho to a sax quartet myself but the boys have beat me to the punch!
In Hedwig's Theme, composed for the first "Harry Potter" film, the diaphanous flute line that John Williams wrote, hovering over the tune, is included but played on sop sax and one might think that a flute was actually playing, not sax, such is the control here. Next is a suite from "Lord of the Rings", consolidating some of Howard Shore's main ideas.
Then is an unusual selection, an instrumental of the title song written by Bono and The Edge for "Golden Eye". This gives alto sax a chance to shine and the tone is opened up at last, for a more full on, pop-based sound, together with split tones in the higher notes.
The album concludes with four tracks from Henry Mancini's "The Pink Panther" - the main theme and three pieces, that were used as diegetic (source) music and the saxes play more jazzily, with scoops, bends etc (generated by embouchure changes).
One caveat, which some might find pedantic on the part of this writer but within the packaging, Korngold becomes Ernst, Bassey's Christian name drops the 'e' and Chaplin becomes Charly...
Housed in a digipak with integral booklet (luckily Mr. Postman didn't muller the non-replacable glued clear tray on my review copy), overall, this is the type of album I'd been waiting on for years, being a saxophonist myself. For non saxplayers who might be intrigued, it goes in part to show what a saxophone is truly capable of, tone and style-wise.
Five Sax At The Movies****
Orlando Records OR 0016 (Paladino Media, Vienna 2015)
18 Tracks; Running Time: 65:38