Let me first say that I had intentionally not read any other reviews on the Theo Wanne Mantra tenor saxophone prior to testing it myself. The following paragraphs contain my initial impression of viewing and playing the Mantra for the first time over about one hour. Certainly I have heard some of the hype and read some advertisements but I truly was not aware of the specific modifications implemented in this new instrument.
So, around 4:00 p.m. UPS dropped of this enormous package on my porch. My wife exclaimed, “What did you order now!?” I said, “Does it look like it might be a saxophone?” The large box was clearly marked Theo Wanne and was not a surprise as I was expecting the Mantra to arrive for my review on SaxShed.com.
I opened the box full of packing peanuts with great anticipation and found the contoured case wrapped in plastic at the bottom of the box. I looked for the latches to open the bright, off white case but found a zipper instead. The long zipper, which wraps around the lightweight case was somewhat reminiscent of the Selmer Sax Pak I owned in the late 70s and through the 80s. Fortunately, this case does not exhibit the same flex at the zipper. The case was attractive, lightweight and sturdy.
I then opened the case to find the Mantra tenor inside and its stunning “vintified” finish. The dark, unlacquered look felt somewhat coarse to the touch and a few features caught my eye immediately. The horn was packaged with it’s own Mantra mouthpiece and the neck looked decidedly different from anything I had seen prior. A comfortable padded strap with locking, metal hook was also included. The octave mechanism sits to the left of the neck and rocks back and forth from a different pivot point and angle from other saxophones I’ve played.
Without hesitation I removed the corks added to clamp the keys shut before shipping. As I handled the instrument I then noticed the addition of not one, but three strap hooks on the body of the instrument. As I gave the Mantra the “once over” I witnessed the bright white pads and rippled metal resonators at each tone hole location. When I finally strapped on the horn and placed it in my hands I could then really feel the key action and significant weight of the horn. Before actually blowing into the Mantra, I hooked the strap onto each of the three available hooks. Before trying them I was a bit skeptical thinking, “What could a half inch higher or lower do?” Quite a bit it turns out. The top hook brought the horn closer to the mouth and seemed to facilitate a downward setting of the embouchure, not unlike pictures of John Coltrane playing. The center hook seemed most comfortable and familiar for me. The bottom hook made the horn fall away from the mouth and seemed to encourage a higher angle of the mouthpiece similar to playing the clarinet.
The keys for the main fingers of the left and right hand felt very familiar. The B,A,G,F,E, and D keys all felt like many saxophones I have played before. The pearls felt small and rounded under the fingers and required no adjustment in my playing technique to feel comfortable. The left hand palm keys and spatula keys did feel quite different. The high F key also seemed to protrude higher as if to anticipate the need to be built up as with my Selmer Mark VI. The right hand spatula Eb and C appeared a bit more present and elongated, in particular the low C. The couplings on the side Bb and C were reminiscent of the older Mark VI as well as the metal thumb hook and octave key. By contrast, the four point bell brace appeared much different from other brands. It was only after playing the horn for an hour that I thought to look at the engraving – modest yet attractive.
I opted to put one of my good reeds on the Mantra mouthpiece and saxophone and just try it as sent for review. My immediate reaction was “Wow. This thing has potential!” Whether from the metal resonators, key height or other factors, I found the horn and native mouthpiece to have great clarity and punch to the sound. It lacked no brightness, darkness or fullness to the sound. Although hard to describe in words, everything seemed to be there at once.
As I continued to play test the horn for the next hour I kept noticing additional adjustment screws located throughout the upper and lower stack. I helped myself to the G# and Bb adjustment screws. After years of having Emilio Lyons work on my tenor I know exactly how I like those adjusted.
In some ways I could look at key guards and see similarities to other horns, then again I’d discover a part of the horn that looked quite different. As time went on, I began to A and B it with my trusty Selmer Mark VI. Truly, this horn holds it’s own and then some.
Lastly, I tried scrutinized the intonation and line up and down the Mantra tenor saxophone. The horn felt very even up and down and required no major changes on my part to feel comfortable with the line and pitch.
I continued to play my regular mouthpiece on the Mantra and the Mantra mouthpiece on my horn. Then I would go back to the Mantra on Mantra. The reaction was always the same. The Mantra is a slammin’ horn! The Mantra mouthpiece is a slammin’ piece! In the end of this non-scientific trial I can say that Theo Wanne’s Mantra tenor saxophone, mouthpiece, case and attention to detail are second to none. He has done it again. This horn clearly demonstrates the fact that the development of the saxophone continues and the bar has yet again been raised by Theo Wanne and the Mantra.
Any saxophonist looking to buy a quality tenor saxophone, need not look any further. The Mantra has all the features, playability and sound quality of the finest of instruments.
Thanks to Theo Wanne and his wonderful crew for allowing me to play test this wonderful instrument – maybe I can borrow it for a couple decades…
You can visit Theo Wanne Custom Mouthpieces at TheoWanne.com and learn more about the Mantra and other innovative products.
Click HERE to view a short video demo of Skip Spratt playing the Mantra tenor saxophone.
Forestone Reeds is a relatively new reed company based in Japan producing high quality synthetic reeds. According to their website this “new” synthetic reed is actually 30 years in the making.
Like many others, I have tried other synthetic reeds over the years. The appeal of the synthetic reed has been their longevity and consistency. The detractor has often been the sound quality. Some synthetic reeds do produce a bright, shrill and uncharacteristic sound – but not Forestone Reeds.
I actually contacted Forestone Reeds regarding writing a review here on SaxShed.com. They were more than willing to send me some samples for review. I gave them my current reed sizes and strengths of choice and they sent out a sampling of their reeds.
Six reeds were sent in two strengths each for clarinet, alto and tenor saxophone. The reeds have the look of a real cane reed as you can see in the picture below.
They have a nice inverted “V” shape toward the tip, as the reed becomes thinner and the shape of the tip matches nicely with my mouthpieces. The thickness of the heel is consistent from left to right, which is often found to vary in real cane reeds. Lastly the reeds I tested were hand marked without the Forestone logo.
Enough about how they look. Everyone wants to know how they sound and feel while playing, right? Well, I found 5 of the 6 reeds to work very well for me.
The 2.5 reeds for alto and tenor worked well with my set up. They were a bit too soft, yet they created more projection than my cane reeds of the same strength. The 3 reeds were better matched to my set up yet the difference was minimal. On clarinet I had great success with the 3.5 but not the 4. The 3.5 Forestone Clarinet Reed produced a bright, clear sound excellent for jazz, Dixie or even Klezmer. I would have expected the 4 to give me more resistance and great core, which I enjoy when playing “legit” clarinet. This particular 4 did not work well for me. Perhaps a bit of adjustment with a reed knife or other tool will do the trick but I have held off on making adjustments at this point.
The sound of these Forestone Reeds I had the pleasure to try is clear and vibrant with lots of projection. The tone quality produced is not thin, harsh, nor shrill. The reeds do respond well through the entire instrument and into the altissimo. Subtone works as you would expect from cane. The sound however IS different. It’s difficult to put into words but it’s not the identical sound to a cane reed.
Lastly, the feel of the Forestone synthetic reed in your mouth may take a bit of getting used to. I have found some synthetic reeds to be a little harder on the bottom lip. One other brand actually cut my lip when I tried it several years ago. I did not have that same experience with the Forestone reeds, however my lower lip did have a bit of initial sensitivity.
You can easily find quite a bit of additional information about the company’s history as well as their product line. The Forestone site is very well organized and informative. Although it’s unclear just exactly how long one reed will last, they do offer some tips and tricks on rotating several reeds.
Although I would hesitate to say that these Forestone Reeds are better than the best cane reeds I’ve ever played. They are better than the vast majority of the cane reeds I have played lately. For those who are tired of being disappointed in the process of selecting and breaking in cane reeds, Forestone Reeds may be the answer. They certainly have brought us closer to having a synthetic reed that mimics many of the favorable characteristics of real cane. At the very least we all should have at least one Forestone Reed in our case for the times our cane lets us down.
Pianist and Composer Ari Erev has recently released his self produced CD "A Handful of Changes." The recording features Erev on piano, Gilad Dobrecky on percussion, Arie Volinez and Tal Ronen on bass, Eitan Itzcovich on drums and Ofer Shapiro on alto saxophone and clarinet. Most notably Joel Frahm appears on both tenor and soprano saxophone.
What strikes me most about this recording is Joel Frahm's wonderful soprano saxophone playing. Prior to this recording I was not familiar with what a full, centered sound Frahm possesses on soprano saxophone. His tenor saxophone playing is remarkable but I dare say I enjoy his soprano here better.
Whether a fan of Joel Frahm or just great saxophone playing, you will enjoy hearing his playing with Ari Erev on "A Handful of Changes."
Bassist and composer Amanda Ruzza has recently released her newest CD “This Is What Happened.” The hard driving, funk ridden collection of 7 songs features Ruzza on her electric bass and an equally talented cast of New York’s finest. Ruzza is joined by Mauicio Zottarelli on drums, Alex Nolan on guitar, Mamiko Watanabe on Rhodes, Cliff Korman on piano and Chris Stover on trombone. The recording most notably features David Binney and Lucas Pino on saxophones. Binney is featured on altos and soprano saxophones. Pino plays tenor and soprano.
From the opening cut Larry and I it is obvious that I was going to L O V E this recording – and I do. Binney’s opening alto sax unison with Ruzza’s bass caught my attention immediately. Ruzza went on to display her talents both slapping and fingering her electric bass. The sound of the classic “slap bass” pioneered by Larry Graham in the 70s and popularized by players like Marcus Miller in the 80s is used sparingly by Ruzza. It somehow sounds fresh and new again.
Fresh and new is how David Binney sounds as well. The grooves he solos over may sound similar to Chick Corea’s Electric Band recordings; however his sound is not at all like Eric Marienthal or even David Sanborn. He has his own unique sound and approach without an overabundance of edge in the sound.
The remainder of the recording could be characterized as “modern fusion” for lack of a better term. Whatever you call it, the odd combinations such as soprano saxophone and trombone work well here. These two instruments in the wrong hands could be a disastrous instrumentation. Pino and Stover navigate the melody and solos on Pagao and Gin flawlessly.
All in all his Is What Happened” includes a variety of Brazilian influenced, rhythmic infused songs expertly executed by Amanda Ruzza and her group. The production values employed in the studio give this music a crisp new sound - unlike the glossy sheen of recordings from the 1980s.
If you are a fan of contemporary, electric jazz with great grooves you will certainly love “This Is What Happened” by Amanda Ruzza. The sound and style may be familiar but the creative twists and turns make this recording stand out.
Posi-Tone Records continues to feature new, young and talented jazz saxophonists. Most recently two such talents have released their newest efforts on CD.
Tom Tallitsch’s “Heads or Tales” and Brandon Wright’s “Journey Man” represent just two of the fine recordings available from Posi-Tone.
Tom Tallitsch’s “Heads or Tales” Press Release reads:
“Tom Tallitsch unleashes a big sound and lets his horn do the talking with “Heads or Tales,” his debut CD for Posi-Tone. Joining Tallitsch on the date is label mate organist Jared Gold, along with the steadfast rhythm section of guitarist Dave Allen and drummer Mark Ferber. Featuring a program of exciting new compositions, and one tasty Neil Young cover thrown in for good measure, this session flows like a compelling collection of short stories, and will certainly speak volumes to discerning listeners about the quality Tallitsch’s talent as player and as a composer. With a delicate balance of modernity and classic aesthetics, “Head or Tales” is insightfully straight ahead and refreshingly melodic enough to evoke a wide assortment of bright moments in jazz fans everywhere.”
Brandon Wright’s Press Release reads:
“Brandon Wright swings out his axe and unleashes a big sound on “Journeyman,” his second release for Posi-Tone Records. Joining Wright on the date is the familiar rhythm section of pianist David Kikoski, bassist Boris Kozlov, and drummer Donald Edwards. With a program of exciting original compositions, and a few tasty covers, the whole session swings into action and shines with bright moments. Wright has noticeably moved to another level. Avid listeners will certainly agree that the record is a hard-hitting performance that will encourage jazz enthusiasts to travel along with the “Journeyman” in amazement and delight.”
Find out more about this and other new releases at Posi-Tone Records at www.posi-tone.com
Ralph Bowen Total Eclipse
Heads up SaxShed.com readers! Ralph Bowen has done it again. You can check out the newest release “Total Eclipse” from Posi-tone Records on May 29, 2012.
The press release below tells a bit about Ralph’s newest release “Total Eclipse”:
“Saxophonist Ralph Bowen reaches for new vistas andsu rpasses himself with his latest release "Total Eclipse." Bowen plays with remarkable technical precision and a manifest knowledge of his materials. His sound is hard and extraordinarily well-centered, his articulation sharp, and his command of the tenor saxophone complete. Nevertheless, the depth of his artistry is considerable. Ralph Bowen is as substantial a musician as jazz has ever produced. The musical program covers a wide spectrum of styles and sounds when Bowen's brilliant original compositions are presented with the able assistance of a solid group of sidemen, including organist Jared Gold, guitarist Mike Moreno, and drummer Rudy Royston. Jazz fans everywhere will swing with intense delight as Bowen soars to new heights with "Total Eclipse."
Track List 1. Total Eclipse 2. Behind The Curtain 3. Into The City 4. The Dowsing Rod 5. On Green 6. Arrows Of Light 7. Exosphere 8. Hip Check 9. In My Dreams
Do yourself a favor and pre-order this if you can. As many of you know, I am a huge fan of Ralph Bowen’s playing. The preview copy I am listening to at the moment is burning. You only need to listen to Hip Check at 1:30 to appreciate what a wonderful technician Ralph is – a true modern virtuoso.
Find out more about this and other new releases at Posi-Tone Records at www.posi-tone.com
Eli Bennett The Chris Potter Transcription Book
Every once in a while a special saxophonist comes along and takes the music world by storm. In the early 90s that saxophonist (among other notables) was Chris Potter. Potter’s unique style of presenting a standard, coupled with his command of the instrument created a strong following among tenor saxophonists of the last two decades. Today, it is time to highlight another special saxophonist. His name is Eli Bennett.
I first became aware of Eli Bennett while watching a video online of Bennett playing a transcription of Chris Potter’s unaccompanied “All the Things You Are.” Not only was Bennett playing the transcription but he mirrored Potter’s performance, note for note, inflection for inflection to a level I had not previously heard achieved. Remarkable as it may be for Potter to have performed this masterpiece, copying it seems a feat of another dimension.
Just a few of the comments under his YouTube video HEREverify what an impression Eli Bennett’s playing is making on his peers. Below are some of the more notable comments:
“* throws away his saxophone *. I don't want to live on this planet anymore…I honestly wouldn't have thought this was possible... fantastic!… I'd say it's harder to transcribe and play than improvising itself. This is amazing.”
I tend to agree with the last comment indicating that Bennet’s copy may be more difficult than improvising the solo in the first place. Naysayers may say “It’s only a copy.” However we all know imitating and emulating other players is the first step to becoming a better player and ultimately finding your own voice. Eli Bennett has taken this to another level in this well-produced and executed 12 minute video.
Enough about the video and on to the book. The official press release is below:
The Official CHRIS POTTER transcription eBook Chris Potter Plays Acapella Standards is now available from Eli Bennett Publishing as a digital download (Bb and Concert versions available - includes eBook and recordings).
The exciting new 136-page eBook features eleven inspiring acapella Potter tenor saxophone solos over standards, including ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE, TUNE UP, I LOVE YOU, 26-2, HAVE YOU MET MISS JONES 1&2, JUST FRIENDS, IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU, CONFIRMATION, LADYBIRD, I HEAR A RHAPSODY, and is available for digital download HERE.
After viewing much of the book I am impressed by the care Eli Bennett has taken to note time signature changes, tempos and time stamps on the recordings. The book is clean, organized and well laid out and reflects two years of labor intensive transcribing on the part of the author.
Support Chris Potter. Support Eli Benett. Do your own playing some good. Buy this book and work on it for the next lifetime or two! I’m certain this publication will become a staple in saxophone studios and collegiate jazz programs for years to come.
Well done my new young friend. I look forward to meeting you in person and following your own career.
Jared Gold Golden Child
Jazz organist Jared Gold just released his CD Golden Child for Posi-Tone Recordson March 27th, 2012. The energetic trio features Gold on organ, guitarist Ed Cherry and Quincy Davis on drums.
“Organist Jared Gold sets his standards high and arrives in style with his latest release "Golden Child." Serious listeners will be delighted to simply sit back and dig the music when Jared brings all the right stuff to this groovy and hard-hitting date. While the focus and crux of "Golden Child" rests squarely upon the shoulders of Mr. Gold and his B-3 organ, the strong showings of guitarist Ed Cherry and drummer Quincy Davis also provide their melodic highlights and consistently exhibit the kind of strong rhythmic support that always keeps the session in the pocket. With an exciting program of musical selections from a wide range of styles, from the funky and familiar to the soulful and original, "Golden Child" certainly exceeds expectations as a swinging collection of performances that jazz enthusiasts can bank on with confidence.” – Posi-Tone Records
Although this recording does not feature or even include a saxophone, I still feel it worthy of mention. Jared Gold’s previous offering on Posi-Tone featured saxophonist extraordinaire Ralph Bowen. You can read that review here. The absence of Bowen on Golden Child may be conspicuous to saxophone lovers however the trio of Gold, Cherry and Davis is absolutely complete within itself.
You can find out more about Ralph Bowen, Jarred Gold and Posi-Tone Records here.
Ehud Asherie with Harry Allen Upper West Side
Thirty-year-old Tenor Saxophonist Harry Allen joins pianist Ehud Asherie on their newest release Upper West Side on Posi-Tone Records.
The recent release features Asherie’s piano and Allen’s tenor in a traditional jazz duo setting. The two traditionalists compliment each other on a slew of standards such as It Had to be You, Our Love is Here to Stay and Have You Met Miss Jones. Two of my favorites on Upper West Side are the fast paced romps I Want to Be Happy and My Blue Heaven.
Although the music of Asherie and Allen is new, it harkens back to a simpler time not found since the 1930s, 40s or 50s. Allen’s tenor saxophone is dark, lush and swings heavily. Allen’s sound and feel is not unlike that of Stan Getz, Al Cohn or even Zoot Sims. Asherie’s piano is crisp and jumping as demonstrated on his walking bass and stride piano heard on the aforementioned I Want to Be Happy.
Any listener need only listen to I’m in the Mood for Love to grasp the understanding and reverence Allen has for the old time saxophone players. There are no rough edges in his playing or delivery – just solid saxophone playing for pleasurable listening.
Ehud Asherie and Harry Allen have most decidedly not reinvented the wheel on Upper West Side. However, if you are a lover of traditional jazz and looking for well-known standards delivered with respect for their origins, this recording is for you!