Saxophone recital explores marginalization

On Saturday, Jan. 21, interested music students and faculty came to see Instructor of Music Sumner Truax give a saxophone recital in the Pusey Room of the Warch Campus Center. Supporting him were Assistant Professor of Music and Director of Jazz Studies José Encarnación on saxophone and Kurt Eric Galván on piano.

In his introduction, Truax spoke about our “incredibly divided country” and emphasized that it is important to examine our differences and celebrate them. For this recital, he selected pieces that were all written by someone who was excluded or marginalized—someone labelled as “other.”

The first piece was a sonata by Paul Creston. Creston, born Giuseppe Guttoveggio, was an Italian immigrant to New York who changed his name to escape discrimination and bullying. He eventually became well-known to saxophonists around the world and was similar in popularity to George Gershwin in Europe.

Each of the sonata’s movements examined a different mood, looking for new characters and colors within it. The first, “With Vigor,” was jazzy and romantic, an accessible and playful duet. While it was substantial enough to stand alone, it seemed to be an introduction for the next movement, the center of the sonata.

“With Tranquility,” the second movement, was contemplative and carefully restrained. Here, Creston explores different methods of musical intensification, using registral expansion and increasingly complex rhythms to bring the piece to a strong climax before breaking it down in the same way. Truax made use of the alto saxophone’s versatile voice, altering its tone and timbre to control the pace of development.

The last movement, “With Gaiety,” was a technical showpiece featuring fast runs and tight coordination between the two musicians. Truax and Galván leaned and nodded in sync, but they were careful not to overact and draw away attention from the composition itself.

Another highlight was a piece called “Steam Man of the Prairies” by Steve Snowden. Based on an early sci-fi novel of the same name, Truax described it as “quintessentially American” in good ways and bad. While it is focused on rapidly-advancing technology and robots, it also depicts the exploration of the West in the late 19th century, a time of American hostility to both Native Americans and immigrants.

The beginning of the piece was sparse and ambient. Senior Jason Koth provided electronic accompaniment in the form of amplification, looping, and reverb played from a large set of speakers. Galván and Truax played slow-rolling chord progressions with touches of jazziness to ground them in familiarity. Gradually, the music developed a stronger pulse using a looped sound played on the speakers. Certain chirping and quaking sounds from the saxophone evoked the sounds of robots.

Truax’s recital was a timely exploration into the value of using music to consider the plight of marginalized and oppressed populations. Now more than ever, open doors and inclusivity are important in concert settings.