The first CD dedicated solely to the world’s smallest and highest saxophone, the Soprillo.
“An astonishing display of technical bravura, displaying outstanding musicianship and a fearless head for heights. This soprillo saxophone recital album is unlikely ever to be surpassed in its quality.”
Richard Ingham - Editor of the Cambridge Companion
Soprillogy is a very personal project. It’s the culmination of my musical career to date, and a thank you to everyone who’s helped me get to this point.
Listeners to this CD may wonder how this tiny piccolo saxophone, the Soprillo, can possibly be the culmination of anyone’s career. The answer is quite simple: circumstances. I came across the instrument by chance when I was researching the Tubax contrabass (the other extreme of the saxophone family), and initially took it up to complete the range of saxes represented in the National Saxophone Choir of Great Britain, which I founded in 2003. I’d been writing and publishing music for saxophone ensembles for decades via Saxtet Publications, and could easily enough arrange Soprillo parts providing high end ‘colour’. However, its uniquely expressive potential soon revealed the Soprillo to be far more than the piccolo-equivalent in an orchestra.
I asked Philip Buttall to write (what is as far as I am aware), the first ever commission for Soprillo and piano, Waltzing Soprillda; an irresistible antipodean walkabout which showcases both the instrument’s agility and its pathos. Meanwhile, I was working hard to master the Soprillo, and provide its maker Benedikt Eppelsheim with technical feedback (both are ongoing). However, I was still a little unnerved by some dismissive attitudes to my ‘bit of bling’. The standing ovation that the Soprillo, the NSC and I received at the 2006 World Saxophone Congress in Slovenia soon settled that.
The outcome is Soprillogy, the first ever all-Soprillo CD. Just as I’ve found musical freedom in searching for a ‘voice’ for the Soprillo, I was able to choose the tracks for this album. Although they are all specially composed or arranged, the project is not about ‘new’ music – it’s just that there is no existing repertoire for Soprillo, and straightforward transcriptions of soprano sax music don’t always work. The tracks defy easy categorisation as classical or jazz, but they’re not self-consciously ‘cross-genre’ either - it’s simply music I like that works on the Soprillo. Igor Krivokapič (composer of Milina) commented, “There is no life for any new and original invention in the world of music if there is no musician to play it.”
That’s very true, and I hope, for the sake of this tiny saxophone and for Benedikt, this CD will inspire (or at least provoke!) new players to venture yet further into its high-altitude sound world.
Nigel Wood - July 2008
1. Duende - Soprillo & piano - Craig Rickards
Duende is a uniquely Spanish arts term which implies authenticity and soulfulness. This is reflected in the Soprillo’s lyricism and urgent piano accompaniment.
2. Where Spirits & Demons Dance -Soprillo & piano - Nigel Wood
Originally commissioned in 1995 for the saxophone choir of the National Youth Wind Orchestra of Great Britain, this atmospheric piece was inspired by a haunting barrel-organ heard in old Amsterdam. This version sees the Soprillo move schizophrenically between the ‘spirits’ and ‘demons’ which represent the city’s charming and more sinister aspects respectively.
3. I Dance for You - Soprillo & accordion - Karen Street
In this tribute to Astor Piazzolla, Karen uses her trademark reflective lyricism and subtle energy to take an intriguingly ambiguous look at the tango’s vigour and passion. It features Karen herself on accordion.
4. Baroquelochness - Soprillo & piano - Daniel Schnyder
Marked monsterioso, in this humoresque the Soprillo combines light-footed virtuosity with a serious attempt to rediscover the subtleties of baroque rhythm.
5. Milina - Soprillo & harp - Igor Krivokapič
Inspired by Nigel Wood’s Soprillo performance at the 2006 World Saxophone Congress in Ljubljana, Slovenia, Milina uses the unexpected combination of Soprillo and harp to evoke the ‘gentleness’ or ‘peacefulness’ implied by the Slovenian title.
6. Waltzing Soprillda - Soprillo & piano - Philip Buttall
Probably the first ever ‘original’ for Soprillo, this irresistible showpiece sees ‘Matilda’ revisit Ravel, Schubert, Beethoven, swing, Sousa and others, serenaded by didgeridoo - on piano.
7. Fujiko - Soprillo & accordion - Andy Scott
Originally commissioned by the British Clarinet Ensemble for a premiere in Japan, this gently reflective piece explores the Soprillo’s full range through variations on a simple, melancholy tune.
8. Fanfare & Soliloquy -Soprillo & piano - Keith Terrett
Bright and incisive, the Soprillo is a perfect fanfare instrument, but this track’s soft centre also hints at its gentler, more expressive qualities.
9. Fugace - Soprillo & piano - Claude Bolling arr. N.Wood
Originally from the 1973 Suite for Flute & Jazz Piano Trio, this bright, jazzy exploration of a baroque theme perfectly suits the Soprillo’s agility.
10. Sonnet No.2 -Soprillo & piano - Mike Westbrook/Chris Biscoe
Originally recorded on the 1986 album Love for Sale as a setting of Elizabeth Barret Brownings’ sonnet ‘If thou must love me’, this version includes Chris Biscoe’s alto sax improvisation and is slow, bluesy and beautifully eloquent.
11. Schwarzer Tänzer -Soprillo & accordion - Nigel Wood
Written for a dancer with a German ballet company, these robust rhythms and bittersweet harmonies draw on the heritage of the oompah band and Kurt Weill. The dancer’s premature death meant that the piece was never choreographed.
12. Chaconnita e Fugato - Soprillo & piano - Ulrich Schultheiss
Another Soprillo original for this album, this is an exuberant and improvisatory exploration of a baroque/jazz fugue, introduced by a rich and stately chaconnita.
13. Farewell Waltz - Soprillo & piano - Craig Rickards
This reflective waltz is tinged with sadness. Resolution is delayed to the very end, suggesting resignation has been achieved.
14. A Matter of Life and Death - Soprillo & piano - Jonathan Taylor
This was originally written for Tango Siempre and is strongly influenced by the music of Astor Piazzolla. The title reflects that for the composer making music is a serious business, much more than mere entertainment.
15. Song for Vinny - Soprillo & piano - Nigel Wood
This song is dedicated to Vincent, the inspiration and facilitator of this album.
Nigel Wood had a prize-winning career at Birmingham Conservatoire as an undergraduate and went on to become one of its first specialist professors of saxophone. He combined teaching with a busy freelance schedule, performing with organisations as diverse as the CBSO, Birmingham Contemporary Music Group and Moscow State Circus.
Nigel’s primary interest at that time was the saxophone ensemble Saxtet, of which he was a founder member. Music written for the group launched Saxtet Publications, the specialist saxophone music publishing company that he has owned and managed for two decades. The success of the business temporarily pushed aside Nigel’s composing and performing interests, but both were rekindled when in 2003 he established the National Saxophone Choir of Great Britain.
He now combines his role as the Choir’s Musical Director with that of ensemble player in the Soprillo (piccolo saxophone) chair and Soprillo soloist. In these capacities he has directed the Choir in festivals, family concerts, saxophone congresses and workshops in the UK and abroad. His compositions and arrangements for Choir and Soprillo, and for Soprillo alone, are beginning to establish a repertoire for the instrument. Nigel continues to work with Benedikt Eppelsheim on the Soprillo’s technical development.
Jonathan Taylor spent most of the 1990’s making a living as a jazz pianist and composer, working with musicians such as Andy Sheppard, Iain Ballamy and Pee Wee Ellis, and performing his own music at jazz festivals around the UK.
Since its inception in 1998, Jonathan has been writing and performing in a variety of exotic venues for Tango Siempre, now the UK’s leading tango group. In 2006 he recorded a tango-jazz fusion project with saxophonist
Gilad Atzmon and drummer/electronic wizard Steve Arguelles, and since 2008 has been touring with bandoneonist Paolo Russo, writing music that combines tango, jazz, electronica and contemporary classical genres.
Away from tango he can be found in the theatre, giving a solo jazz recital or playing funk around Europe. In 2005 he recorded a contemporary classical saxophone and piano album with Andrew Tweed and in a less serious vein, works regularly with ‘Instant Wit’, an improvised comedy show. Jonathan currently teaches jazz at the Guildhall School in London.
Karen Street currently works as a freelance accordionist, saxophonist and composer. She studied music at Bath University, Welsh College of Music and Drama and Guildhall School of Music, became British Virtuoso Champion in 1981/2 and competed in the Coupe Mondiale (World Championship) in Hamburg and Folkestone. Her wide-ranging skills (she plays clarinet and flute in addition to accordion and saxophone) keep her in demand for a broad range of projects encompassing classical, contemporary and jazz.
Karen’s debut CD Finally...A Beginning was released 2001. Following its success, she put together a quartet with Stan Sulzmann, Fred T Baker and Mike Outram for the recording of Accordion Crimes in 2004. The Arts Council of England funded the album’s 2005 tour.
Tanya Houghton is originally from Birmingham and studied music at the University of Cambridge before pursuing advanced studies in the harp at the Royal Academy of Music, London and the École Normale de Musique de Paris. Now a freelance professional in England and abroad, she is in demand across a wide range of genres; orchestrally, in chamber groups and as a collaborative accompanist to choral and vocal music.