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A Gift For The Unusual: Music For Contrabass Saxophone by Vinny Golia

When Vinny Golia entitles a CD "A Gift For The Unusual," you know that the album contains something really unusual. For Golia often overlooked for his contributions to free jazz due to his location on the West Coast, far from the more widely publicized New York jazz scene has recorded in seemingly infinite varieties as he as assembled a cornucopia of musical instruments. His interest in the sonic possibilities of music is so great that his curiosity, and explorative nature, apparently is never satisfied. He’s always changing forms and alternating instruments, and the nature of the experimental textures of any new release on his Nine Winds label is anyone’s guess before the CD is heard. However, on A Gift For The Unusual, Golia concentrates on just one instrument and on just one sonic range. The second part of Golia’s album title is misleading, though. The music itself was written for the contrabass saxophone, involving work in that lowest of horn frequencies, but the instrument that Golia plays is the Tubax, a German invention that offers increased portability over the unwieldy contrabass saxophone, increased timbral richness over the tuba and increased power over the seldom-played contrabass bassoon. Coincidentally, a recent recording by the Rowan University Lab Band does include a contrabass bassoon in its instrumentation.

So, Golia has taken a series of new free improvisations and combined them with previous compositions for the contrabass saxophone not only to demonstrate, but also to enjoy the distinctive tone of the Tubax. The result is that A Gift For The Unusual enters the explorative territory for which Golia is known as he places the Tubax in difficult sonic environments. Initially, so enamored was Golia of the possibilities offered by the Tubax that he considered a solo album. But the benefits of variety prevailed. Golia’s predominant work on the Tubax is enhanced by his interplay with long-time associate, trombonist Michael Vlatkovich, the bass-clef lines of Vlatkovich’s chatter on "Repetition" deepened even more. Astoundingly, Golia’s work on the Tubax is restrained only by the thematic confines of the compositions he wrote. On "Mr Amons Builds His Bridge," Golia investigates the punctuating effects of the Tubax as he responds to and then encourages the flourishes of hand percussion.

Part of the problem with the contra bassoon, besides its perceived association with chamber music and classical orchestra, is its inability to project volume with the power of a tuba or a saxophone. The Tubax, invented by Benedict Eppelsheim, takes care of that. Thus, Golia can provide an even wider range of dynamics on "The Mozart Of Vice" than he did on his earlier performance of the same song on bass saxophone. For contrast, he plays "Once Upon A Time On My Way To The Studio" with lowest-register playfulness while harmonica player Bill Barrett inhabits the opposite audio range as they work with and against each other in crafting the song’s delivery. One of the most interesting tracks, contained within an entire CD of interesting performances, is "Something I Thought Of," which consists of the overdubbing of five of Golia’s parts on the Tubax for a layered texture solely of Tubax threads interwoven. Golia’s gift for the unusual now extends to the introduction of the Tubax as a jazz instrument, and it will no doubt be adopted by other reed players who value its unusual but nonetheless arresting attributes for a broader means of expression than previously was available.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Vinny Golia
  • CD Title: A Gift For The Unusual: Music For Contrabass Saxophone
  • Genre: Free Jazz / Avante Garde
  • Year Released: 2004
  • Record Label: Nine Winds
  • Tracks: Single Booth Enclosure – Prime, Repetition, Mr. Amons Builds His Bridge, Eye My, Single Booth Enclosed Third – Revisitation, The Mozart Of Vice, The 15th, Just Something I Thought Of, Once Upon A Time On My Way To The Studio, A History Of Everything That Ever Happened, The Last Of Its Kind
  • Musicians: Vinny Golia (tubax, Gordophone); Michael Pierre Vlatkovich (trombone); Bill Casale (bass); Wayne Peet (piano, organ, theremin, synthesizer); Jessica Caltron (cello); Bill Barrett (chromatic harmonica)
  • Rating: Four Stars
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