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Top 5 Alto Saxophone Records

by Allison Burik

May 9, 2019

Allison Burik

Photo by Sasha Pedro

Alto Saxophone Improvisations 1979 by Anthony Braxton (1979)

In 86 minutes of solo music, Braxton uses a myriad of techniques including subtones, key clicks, multiphonics, growls, slap tonguing, and lip glissandos that alternate with linear, melodic playing. While most of the record features his original compositions, he also pays homage to jazz tradition with his versions of “Red Top,” Giant Steps,” and “Along Came Betty.”

Love Call by Ornette Coleman (1968)

Ornette Coleman’s soulful phrases know no bounds of clef or time. His solo on “Check Out Time” demonstrates how he routes a single melodic idea through a number of processes. This type of narrative improvisation has the power to keep listeners on the edge of their seats.

Anna Högberg Attack by Anna Högberg Attack (2016)

Anna Högberg is a force of nature. Her sax intro to “Borderline” and her solo in “Lisa Med Kniven” are both mind-blowing. Experimental improvisation is inherent to Högberg’s arrangements on this record, opening a playground of extended techniques and group interaction. Högberg demonstrates a wide range of orchestrational possibilities with her band, fronted by three saxophones.  While some tracks include sections of beautiful chorales, others are defined by hard-hitting, angular saxophone soli lines. This juxtaposition shows the powerful coexistence of tonality and noise.

Iron Man – Eric Dolphy (1963)

Eric Dolphy shatters conventional melody with intervallic leaps and emphasis on the extreme registers of the saxophone. His compositions and improvisations are defined by an angular style and penchant for dissonance against traditional harmony. Dolphy utilizes the same language across different contexts; for example, his bass clarinet on “Come Sunday” exposes lyrical sensibilities while his alto solo on “Mandrake” is much more fiery. In both songs, however, he’s playing the same material.

The Soundtrack of Things to Come – Jaleel Shaw (2013)

Jaleel Shaw demonstrates a mastery of traditional and modern jazz language, and he isn’t afraid to “dig in” by growling or bending pitches in the name of artistic expression. He brilliantly applies his artistic voice over original compositions that blend elements of gospel, folk, neo-soul, and hip-hop. As one of the top saxophonists in the New York scene, every alto player should know Jaleel Shaw’s music.