Canadian Musician - May / June 2018 - Page 29

WOODWINDS Saxophonist and composer Gordon Hyland gigs around his hometown of Toronto as a freelancer and as a regular with Dwayne Gretzky, Ronley Teper & The Lipliners, Vivienne Wilder & The Vice Presidents, Blunt Object, and the Mack Longpre Quartet. Rejoining with members of indie-electronic group Ninja Funk Orchestra, Hyland now leads his own project, Living Fossil, a conceptual post-bop ensemble. The first Living Fossil album, NEVER DIE!, reached number one on the !Earshot Magazine National Jazz charts in February of 2018. By Gordon Hyland Electric Sax! I never thought to try electric effects pedals on the saxophone until I was presented with the dilemma of blending the acous- tic sound of the saxophone with electric guitar, electric bass, and insanely loud drums in the Toronto indie-electronic group Ninja Funk Orchestra. Just being amplified wasn’t enough; I needed to be able to change the shape of my sound to blend with the sonic possibilities of electric stringed instruments or face irrelevancy. It turns out this wasn’t a new problem. Electric Sax History In the mid-1960s, saxophone makers Selmer, Conn, and King were all focused on electrifying the saxophone so they could take advantage of the consumer obsession with electrified instruments in a post-British Invasion America. It was imperative that horn sections could plug into amps like other instruments lest they be drowned out and forgotten. Selmer was the first to create what it called an “electric saxophone.” The Selmer Varitone, like the Conn Multi-Vider and the King Ampli- fonic, solved the amplification issue by drilling a pickup into either the neck or mouthpiece of the instrument and sending the signal via 1/4- in. cable. A built-in effects processor allowed for a basic EQ, reverb, tremolo, and an octave generator. Eddie Harris brought the Varitone into the spotlight with “Listen Here” on Electrifying Eddie Harris (1968), but Sonny Stitt’s album What’s New!!! Sonny Stitt Plays the Varitone (1967) was the first major recording to feature the Varitone. Even outspoken jazz traditionalist Lee Konitz can be heard trying out the electrified saxophone on the introduction to “Variations on Alone Together” on The Lee Konitz Duets (1968). All of these recordings feature the Varitone’s octave generator effect. John Klemmer’s album Blowin’ Gold (1969) is considered one of the first fusion records ever made and features an octave generator, Maestro Echoplex tape delay, and overdrive distortion. “Excursion #2” starts with Klem- mer playing an intensely chromatic passage W W W. C A N A D I A N M U S I C I A N . CO M through a panning overdrive distortion effect before snapping into the melody with acoustic saxophone. “Children of the Earth Flames” begins with a growling saxophone faded in and saturated with delay. Then, he engages a distorted sub-octave effect before turning it off and playing a frenetic solo. The introduction of “My Love Has Butterfly Wings” has Klemmer playing solo with just Echoplex tape delay. Klemmer fell in love with the Echoplex delay and would later release a new age album titled Cry - Solo Saxophone (1978) that features tenor saxophone, Echoplex, and wordless vocaliza- tions. Using Effects Klemmer, Harris, Stitt, and Konitz were some of the first to experiment with electric effects and their early recordings were glimpses into what was possible; however, it was Michael Brecker’s work blending acoustic saxophone and elec- tric effects in the jazz fusion group The Brecker Brothers that got me interested in using effects pedals with the instrument. Musitronic’s Mu-Tron envelope filter is one of the most iconic electric effects on the saxophone and Brecker uses it all over Heavy Metal Be-Bop (1978). Most of this live record- ing features some kind of effect on either the trumpet or saxophone, but at 4:09 on “Funky Sea, Funky Dew” Michael can be heard experi- menting with his effects pedals during his epic solo cadenza. At one point, he fades in the har- monizer as if it were a chordal instrument ac- companying his improvisations. The effects are very clearly audible and it’s fascinating to hear the strengths and limitations of the technology he’s using while the band has stopped. The next generation of saxophonists had grown up listening to the music of those who experimented with electric effects and were now creating music of their own. No longer did you need a pick-up in the neck or mouth- piece of the saxophone to effectively trigger harmonizers or envelope filters. This made using effects easier for those who didn’t want to drill holes in their saxophone. The Bloomdaddies had no chordal instru- ment, leaving room for saxophonists Chris Cheek and Seamus Blake to accompany each other with harmonizers and delay effects like on “Hick as Heck” from The Bloomdaddies (1996). Cheek continued to evolve his ability to blend effects pedals with saxophone riffs and melodic lines on Rudder’s albums Rudder (2007) and Matorning (2009). Meanwhile, the influence of Eddie Harris’s R&B-infused jazz can be heard on Joshua Redman’s album Momentum (2005). Kneebody’s crossover jazz albums feature Brecker Brothers-like fusion moments in con- temporary compositions. The overdrive distor- tion on Ben Wendell’s solo on “Platforming” from Kneedelus (2015), a collaboration with electronic music producer Daedelus, sounds like John Klemmer’s opening phrase on “Excursion #2.” Colin Stetson uses the extremely low bass saxophone and extended techniques like circular breathing on his critically acclaimed solo saxophone recordings History of Modern Warfare Trilogy (2007-2013) and All This I Do for Glory (2017). He creates electric effect-like sounds by placing microphones on his throat, saxophone body, and at strategic places in the performance or recording space. His wordless vocalizations and cascading notes sound like Klemmer’s Cry - Solo Saxophone at times. There couldn’t be a better time to experi- ment with technology and the saxophone. By listening to the artists who have incorpo- rated electric effects into their music, we can find inspiration for what comes next. I hope you find something in the music above that inspires you. Electric Sax! Spotify Playlist Check out an exclusive playlist by Gordon Hyland called “Saxo- phone Electric Playlist for Canadian Musician,” featuring many of the tracks mentioned in this article and others, at www.gordonhyland.com/electricsax. C A N A D I A N M U S I C I A N • 29