Tuesday, February 17, 2015

A Visual Guide to my Baritone Mouthpiece Reviews

In an effort to make my views on mouthpieces easier to compare I've created this series of quick reference charts. These charts represent the basic playing characteristics of each mouthpiece.  The scale is from 1 to 10 with 1 being the least amount of a particular feature and 10 being the most. Of course all of these characteristics are intertwined. For ex. You can't really have a mouthpiece with high brightness and very low projection.

The four characteristics are:

Flexibility: how easy is it to alter the base tone. Very flexible pieces have tones that are easily bent and techniques like lip bends and squeeze tones become easier. The more flexible a piece is the harder it is to keep in tune, as a general rule of thumb.

Core Tone: This is a measure of how many harmonics are present in the base tone. Less core means more harmonics and thus a more "color" tone. Whereas more tone means the piece will blend better into ensembles.

Brightness: This is a measure of how prominent the high harmonics are in the tone. The brighter the tone the more it cuts through the ensemble and is considered more contemporary.

Volume: How loud is the piece? Can it be heard from space?

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Warburton J Series Baritone mouthpiece review

Warburton Baritone Saxophone Mouthpiece J series
Now i wouldn't be surprised at all if you didn't first think of Warburton when you came to this site. In fact Warburton hadn't crossed my radar until a few years ago when a few brass friends mentioned in passing that they make a woodwind mouthpiece in addition to their brasswind pieces.  Curious about this development I went to their website to view their saxophone offerings. To my dismay at the time they had baritone mouthpiece in development but not ready. Rather than invest in a tenor piece I decided to wait. After a few years I forgot about Warburton until an offer I couldn't refuse crossed my email box and then I had my very own J-Series piece at the .110 tip opening that I prefer.

DISCLAIMER/REMINDER: As a general rule, the sound you get from any mouthpiece is dependent on a number of factors. These include the players physiology, the horn, the reed chosen, the mouthpiece and most importantly the players sound concept. The sound concept is the internal tone each player hears in their head. If you prefer a darker tone then no matter what your body will find a way to darken the tone. Consider how Don Menza can sound like Webster, Coltrane, and Hawkins just by hearing the sound in his head. His well practiced body then makes changes to give him the desired tone.

Construction: The material is a traditional hard rubber with a gentle sloping baffle and slight rollover. The sidewalls are straight and the tip and side rails are thin. I'm not certain of the chamber size but I do find that I have to pull the mouthpiece out off of the cork more than any other mouthpiece i own. that suggests that the chamber may be more medium than large.

Mouth feel: The piece has a traditional hard rubber baritone mouthpiece feel. The beak is slim so it would work well for any size mouth. Personally I prefer a bit larger a mouth feel as I feel like it opens my airways a bit more.

Reed friendliness: Reed friendliness  is normally a function of how evenly and precisely the facign curve is and whether there is damage, even slight, to any portion of the facing. The facing of this piece was almost perfect when I dropped a .0015 feeler on it. Because of this and the layout of the curve it played well with most reeds I had. Though, I did have to move down a half strength from the RPC Rollover I had been playing prior (more on that later).

Sound: This piece has is marketed as "designed for the contemporary player that wants maximum flexibility and a traditional hard rubber feel." Without defining contemporary this leaves a lot of room for interpretation. In my opinion contemporary players sound much brighter than those of yesteryear. They tend to value the brightness and edge of modern pieces. If this is the measure that you use as well then this mouthpiece is not "contemporary". It can be brighter if pushed but I wouldn't call it bright at all but it's not tubby either. It has a great blend of core tone and edge that when pushed can blend with almost any non-amplified group.

Warburton J-Series Sound Experience Chart

TAKE AWAY: This piece can be found for around $200 new. This is a steal for what I now consider a good do almost anything mouthpiece. You can anchor the sax section in the big band or blow a few ballads in a small jazz combo. This piece will fit the bill. It's easier to play and has more core tone than a Link and intonation is more spot on than you'd get from a high baffle Berg.

Monday, January 12, 2015

How I bought a stolen prototype mouthpiece on Ebay

Sometime mid 2014 i was cruising eBay when I stumbled across a unusual Bari woodwinds (BW) tenor mouthpiece. It looked similar to a standard rubber BW piece but the table of the mouthpiece was cut away. On a whim I bought it and when I received it I was a little shocked that it was a bit too bright for me. I figured the best thing to do was to sell the piece. As a regular buyer and seller on eBay and SaxOnTheWeb (SOTW) I knew that the perfect description can make or break a sale so I set about learning what i could about this piece.

Try as I might I was unable to discover anything about this mouthpiece. I even went so far as to search in the internet archives for old versions of the website and product lists back to the late 90's. i poured through tens of dozens of posts about Bari Woodwinds mouthpieces on SOTW but nothing like this odd mouthpiece had been mentioned. After this I simply placed it on my mouthpiece stand and forgot about it. Until December 2014.

I was cleaning out mouthpiece drawer and stand to take advantage of the Christmas buying spree and decided I'd just place it on SOTW and Craigslist as a standard BW tenor piece along with 13 other pieces and didn't give it a second thought. I got some bites but interest dwindled until a single person request to buy that one mouthpiece. I was only to happy to sell it but then he stopped responding to my emails to setup a meeting. I decided to give up again and placed the mouthpiece back on the stand.

It was then that I realized that I had Bari Woodwinds on my Facebook friends list. I snapped some pictures and sent them over explaining the situation and requesting any information on the mouthpiece. I was going to resell it on ebay when they told me what it was. While I waited I got an email from the fellow originally interested in the mouthpiece. He had a brief hospital stay and couldn't get back to me until recently. We began negotiations again when I received the following reply from the president of Bari Woodwinds.

Dear Zel,

The mouthpiece was a prototype over 5 years ago that we were going to produce for another mouthpiece company. Unfortunately, it was stolen from our booth. We cannot produce it with our name on it because this design is patented. In fact, after the mouthpiece was stolen, it was circulating around and the other mouthpiece company found out. He thought we were going to manufacture them. We finally convinced him we were not and the lawsuit was dropped.

Could you please send this mouthpiece back to me. Bringing this to our attention, I would like to send to you a mouthpiece of your choice. Please review the mouthpieces on our website and let me know. www.bariwoodwind.com.

Sincerely, Jim Cavanaugh President

Clearly, this piece had a dubious history and they'd like to have it back so I'll be sending it back to them. I completely understand how having your products stolen by some dishonest person is a painful feeling. It's not as though small businesses have it easy so it pleases me that Jim offered to replace my piece with another. That was noble and great customer service. While I could sell this unusual piece I'd much rather give it back so they can be certain they won't be sued by the other company, Jody Jazz maybe?

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Thar They Blow - Nuclear Whales Saxophone Orchestra (1991)

In October I wrote about trying to find more information about the Nuclear Whales Saxophone Orchestra (NWSO) group as they had faded into obscurity since the 1990's. At the time of writing that I was waiting on the arrival of a few of their albums. I've been a fan since I first heard this album back in 1994. This group of brilliant musicians is unique as it is has a contra-bass saxophone and sopranino saxophone. At the time of this recording finding either of these instruments was about as hard as finding a sober person in Boston on St. Patrick's day. Simply stated difficult but they were out there if you knew where to look.

The first thing that caught my eye was the great cover art. I love CD's for many reasons but first among them is the cover art. Yes, you can get your media play to download the art but more often than not you don't get the liner notes or CD facing art.If you buy the CD from a local used record store you may even get unusual bonuses like old business cards, or artist signatures.

Compare Don's contra-bass (left) to Art's bass (right)
Let's start at the big fish in the saxophone pond, the contra-bass saxophone. Today there are other options for this hulking behemoth. Eppelsheim contra-bass saxophone that is more compact and lighter looking than the vintage monster that Don Stevens plays on the album. Don's unusual Buffet (Evette-Shaefer) Eb contrabass saxophone has a big booming sound on the album and definitely makes an impact on everyone who see it in person. At 6'8" (2.03 m) tall and 45lbs (20kg) a contra-bass is not for weak of body or with small lung capacity. Aside from the shock value the contra-bass does add value to the group. It extends the range of the bass voicing to that of the lower register of the organ. This allows for broad and very rich chords that do not feel as though they are missing something.

On the other extreme is Rach Cztar on sopranino. 'Nino is not an instrument for the faint either. It is a wickedly difficult horn to play well and it's propensity to go out of tune is legendary. I own a 'nino and I find it's intonation to be very sensitive to reed and and mouthpiece changes. Clearly experience and dedication has given Rach the ability to tame the dragon and allow it to ring like a bell in the thick arrangements the group performed.

Musically this group likes thick chords and arrangements which feel more like big band than small'ish saxophone group. This is a godsend as quartet arrangements often feel like parts are missing or not covered well.  Often it's the low range that falls short. Big saxes are expensive, rare, and require a lot of extra consideration just to move them from point A to point B but their contribution to the sound of a group is immeasurable. Listen to the bouncing bass line and you realize that this is a sound that can not be replicated on a bari or bass sax, you have to have the range and punch to hold down the bass. Perhaps the best side effect of having bass and contra-bass in the same group is that it frees the baritone from being the bass voice in the group. In quartets the baritone holds down the bass line but in groups like this the baritone can be free to be the solo voice without the fear of the bottom dropping out of the chords.

The musical selection on this album cover the 20th century quite well up tot he 90's and makes for easy listening. In fact many of the videos circulating on YouTube of this group is from concerts in which they are playing songs from this album. Including the crowd favorites "Bugler's Holiday", "Casbah Shuffle", and "Tiger Rag". As you might have experienced the YouTube versions of videos are of lower quality than the studio recordings on this disk. It is because of this I have to recommend listening to the disk over watching the videos. The sound quality is much better and the details you get from a studio record trump the visuals of a contra-bass sax dancing across a stange.

Line Up:
Rach Cztar: Sopranino, Alto, Duck Call
John Davis: Alto, Tenor
Ann Stamm Merrell: Baritone
Art Springs: Tenor, Bass, Vocal
Don Stevens: Soprano, Alto, Vocal
Kristen Strom: Soprano, Alto, Vocal

Ashwin Batish: Tabla
Wince Lateano: Drums, Tam Tam
Galen Lemmon: Timpani

Get this album on Amazon like I did

*Updates* 2015 is going to be a fun year

Like many musicians in my area I had a busy December of 2014. Gigs and family took me away from the site. Now that the holiday season has past it's time for new reviews, a new transcription, additional study material, and of course news of interesting things in the world of saxophones.  Stay tuned and come back often.

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