Sax Tape kicks off with a challenge (via a garbled sample of WFMU’s Tom Scharpling): “Hey, look, we can admit the saxophone stinks as an instrument, right? It’s kinda like, you take it—like, ‘fine, I’ll take it’. When has a saxophone been good?”
Presumably, that is the question this LP from Guelph’s Bry Webb, who also fronts indie band The Constantines, attempts to answer. In fact, the answer turns out to be a ponderous one, taking the listener through a series of saxophonic/rhythmic variations: the breathy burn of digi-lounge, the nasal strains of free jazz, the dizzying swells of carny trip-hop. There are also a few samples, stitching the whole thing together, including a few of Scharpling and also from fellow Canadian act Feuermusik. In sum, the listener gets a fair selection of the sax’s non-pop possibilities—or rather its range, which roams freely from pained seduction in the low end to riotous ecstasy in the high end.
The transitions are not about-faces (usually); instead, over the course of the recording’s 60 or so minutes, the variations bleed into and out of one another (the reader should be advised that there are no song-like delineations on either of the two 30-minute tracks). A change in beat often signals the introduction of a new musical contour, of which there are many; nonetheless, a paranoid, minor mood persists throughout. On the first track, neither percussion nor breath dominates and the two remain fairly subdued enough (notwithstanding the occasional fit) to label the thing atmospheric.
The drum machine tends to make the music a tad samey, and when it drops out (or gets less machine-like), at about the halfway mark on side two, a great, enticing funk vamp starts up—a sort of Miles Davis, Jack Johnson-era thing. This turns out to be merely a teaser, and we are slid comfortably back into the breathy/digi stuff from the first side. By the last few minutes of the second side, we get some “hey-ho” drumming and nifty sax/electro-bleep freak-out, which then settles into a fizzle instead of erupting into a full-blown jam.
Note: Webb is donating all of the money generated from the download of this album to Ecojustice, Canada’s leading charity using the law to protect and restore the environment. So buy it.
Review by Shane Meyer