CD Review: Robert Young
Cover Art: Isaac Klunk
REVIEWED BY: Dr. Christopher Barrick
Dr. Christopher Barrick is the James and Ann Bumpass Distinguished Chair of Music and head of the Department of Music at the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith. An active saxophonist, he holds degrees from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (DMA), the University of Tennessee (MM), and Indiana University of Pennsylvania (BA, BS). Barrick is an endorsing artist for Conn-Selmer and performs on Selmer Paris saxophones.
Robert Young: HYBRID
by Dr. Christopher Barrick
While I’ve been hearing great things about Robert Young’s playing for a while now, his new album Hybrid is my first chance to really explore his artistry. Though hardly a new voice for the saxophone – he has previously performed with the PRISM Quartet as well as numerous orchestras and wind ensembles – Hybrid marks his first full-length solo studio recording. Young’s debut album is an ambitious program of challenging contemporary works that traverse many styles.
Hybrid begins with Mischa Zupko’s five-movement work, In Transit, which was commissioned and ultimately premiered by Timothy McAlister in 2001. A member of the faculty at the DePaul University School of Music, Zupko has contributed this 25-minute tour de force to the contemporary saxophone repertoire. Inspired by travel destinations, the composer says of In Transit:
I finally settled on an impressionistic landscape inspired by the dense fogs of Seattle as a starting point followed by a trip to Miami with a little salsa influence, an elegy reviving a sad song written by my grandfather in the 40s, a cadenza movement resembling a drive down the busy streets of New York, ending with a contemporary jazz-like reverie on the journey gone by.
In Transit opens the recording with free yet passionate lines in the first movement, Red Walls of Fog, showcasing Young’s clear tone and keen melodic sense. Movement two, Mango Café, ends with a virtuosic flourish of arpeggios and slap tongue that is one my favorite moments from the album. Young’s impressive technique and soaring altissimo lines are also showcased in the fourth movement, Rush Hour!, which proceeds attacca to Zupko’s lyrical reverie The Dream that ends the work.
In addition to serving as collaborative pianist, David Heinick also contributes his own composition Four-Letter Words to the project. This work is cast in four movements for alto saxophone, clarinet, and piano. Young and Heinick are joined by clarinetist Julianne Kirk Doyle on all four movements: wary, busy, lazy, and edgy. Their performance is stellar, though at times I wish Doyle’s clarinet was a little more prominent in the mix. While the canonic energy and impressive ensemble work in busy live up to the movement’s title, its frenetic vigor is somehow surpassed in the finale, edgy. Four-Letter Words is a fun yet challenging work that might interest a lot of single-reed colleagues looking to collaborate.
Gradient by composer and percussionist Baljinder Sekhon is a true exploration of sonic palettes. Sekhon uses a number of extended techniques such as slap tongue and prepared piano to create a wide spectrum of sonorities. Young and Heinick perform the work with relative ease despite its ambitious demands.
Composer and percussionist Tim Sullivan performs on his own work, Disorderly Conduct. Scored for tenor saxophone and “modified” drum set, the work explores different sound textures and also displays plenty of groove. Sullivan states that the piece is “inspired by the great sax-drum duo albums of John Coltrate/Rashied Ali and Anthony Braxton/Max Roach.” The performance is quite expressive as the work crosses from aggressive to esoteric interpretations of contemporary jazz.
The album comes to a close with ...unsettled, unphased... by Gregory Wanamaker, a work for tenor saxophone, piano, bass and drum set. Young is again joined by Sullivan on drums, as well as by pianist M. Maxwell Howard and bassist John Geggie. No stranger to the saxophone world, Wanamaker contributes an interesting chamber work that combines Eastern European rhythms with a number of 20th-century harmonic techniques for jazz combo instrumentation. The piece begins in medias res as Young and the ensemble play tight mixed meter grooves that invoke equal parts jazz and Bartók-esque ethnic dance rhythms. This energetic dance section returns frequently in what the composer refers to as a “sonata-rondo hybrid.” In the middle of the work, a floating bass solo is contrasted by the harsh tones of saxophone multiphonic techniques. A vigorous rock-like march decorated with tenor altissimo leads to a final coda version of the dance-groove section. Wanamaker’s ...unsettled, unphased... is both a stimulating and fitting conclusion to an album inspired by a melting pot of styles and genres.
In sum, Robert Young’s new release on Equilibrium Recordings, Hybrid, presents a daring program of chamber works featuring the saxophone. Its contemporary selections cross boundaries between various types of influence: jazz, classical, rock, and more. Hybrid showcases Young’s virtuosity, including effortless expression and a facile technique indicative of his true mastery of his instrument. His collaborative musicians are superb and the recording quality is generally quite excellent, rounding out the presentation. I highly recommend that saxophonists – especially those interested in collaborative works – check out Robert Young’s impressive new recording, Hybrid.
-Dr. Christopher Barrick