NASA Biennial Reflections

I traveled to Cincinnati to take part in the North American Saxophone Alliance Biennial Conference, which was held at the University of Cincinnati from March 8-11.  Despite having attended numerous regional conferences and World Saxophone Congresses, this was in fact my first opportunity to attend NASA’s premier gathering.  I enjoyed being able to lecture on the music of Yusef Lateef, but want to highlight my thoughts on the rest of the weekend!

The program for the conference was absolutely jammed full, with four separate performance venues running concurrently at times, in addition to lectures happening as well.  This made it difficult to see all the performers I wanted, but the sheer enthusiasm of people eager to present is, in my mind, a good problem to have.  While I’ll highlight a few standout performances I witnessed, I was only able to hear a paltry few percent of all the performances!

I was also heartened to see space given to the business side of musicianship, with Jess Voigt-Page, Elizabeth Rosinbum, and Jenifer Kechulius giving lectures in what were labeled “Entrepeneurship Workshops.”  I tried to attend one of these, but arrived to a room already packed to standing room only, and had to settle for trying to hear from the hallway!  I believe that as the academic world continues to trend toward fewer full-time positions in favor of adjunct work, we need to place even more importance on sustaining a meaningful, creative living from playing and teaching outside the university.

On Friday, my standout performance was hearing Edward Goodman perform Pierre Boulez’s Dialogue de l’ombre double (1985). Originally for clarinet and eight-speakers, Goodman fashioned a pared-down recording that used panning between two speakers to simulate the surround-sound effect and make the work manageable to play on the road.  Performing in a darkened theatre, Goodman’s virtuosic performance slipped in and out of the pre-recorded works and captivated me for the entirety of the substantial work. 

On Saturday I saw Rhonda Taylor, who will be on faculty at this year's Seattle Saxophone Institute, captivate her audience with two improvisations off her most recent album.  Often working with electronics, Taylor played acoustically on this performance.  Eschewing a mouthpiece for The High Priestess, Taylor pivoted from delicate airiness to guttural wails with ease, delivering a broad sonic palette that demonstrated the baritone saxophone's flexibility. 

After Taylor, the New Thread Quartet out of New York City performed 2017's Flux Candrix by Taylor Brook.  Demanding microtonal precision as complex as a 16th-tone, the piece held me spellbound, turning clouds of microtonality around on a dime.  The quartet played expressively through a complex piece that I found satisfyingly unpredictable.

The Saturday evening concert was clearly programmed to be a showcase of the instrument's potential to excel across different genres.  To begin, Erin Rogers (who performed earlier with New Thread) and percussionist Dennis Sullivan came together as the Popebama Experimental Duo, transfixing the audience with two of their virtuosic works for saxophone and various air and percussion instruments that included rubber hoses, melodica, and amplified bubbles.  The sheer outlay of all the different instruments resulted in a highly choreographed performance that was as engaging visually as it was impressive musically.

Om Srivastava debuted his piece Reed and Rela with Jim Feist on tablas in an engaging performance that effectively melded the timbre of the tabla drums to the soprano saxophone.  Moving through a wide range of melodies, the piece closed with an exuberant torrent of tremolos that highlighted the soprano's nimbleness.

The renowned Masato Kumoi Quartet (with Matt Evans dutifully filling in on tenor) closed out the nightly concerts by delivering a command performance of some familiar quartet repertoire, opening with Pierre Lantier's Andante et Scherzetto before moving into David Maslanka's Songs for the Coming Day.  Kumoi then switched from soprano to a circa-1910 era alto saxophone with an equally vintage metal mouthpiece to perform Bizet's L'arlesienne Suite.  Kumoi maintained impeccable intonation on the older instrument and expanded his vibrato to transport the listener back into the earlier days of saxophone history.  It was a pleasure to hear such a deservedly-renowned saxophonist command the instrument, and the quartet performance was a satisfying way to close out the main concert series.

Finally, while I generally avoid the vendor areas due to the wall of sound coming from hundreds of people playing together (I heard the larger vendor hall referred to appropriately as the Thunder Dome), I was looking forward to visiting the D'addario booth and trying out their new Alto Reserve Mouthpiece.  I was able to take all three facings (1.45, 1.50, and 1.55) to a practice room and compare them.  I was told that the 1.50 would compare most favorably to my current Selmer C*, and this indeed proved to be the case.  I was thoroughly impressed with these mouthpieces and felt they offered a wonderful ease of playability, flexible colors, and great depth on some of the instrument's shorter notes.  I'm looking forward to digging in with these mouthpieces more, but from my initial impressions D'addario has again produced a consistent, quality mouthpiece that will surely find traction in the saxophone community.

All in all, there were too many quality performances to list them all here!  But, it was a wonderful time catching up with colleagues from around the country and hearing performances, classes, and lectures of the highest level. 



Saxophone Equipment in the "Thunder Dome" at the NASA 2018 Biennial Conference.

Saxophone Equipment in the "Thunder Dome" at the NASA 2018 Biennial Conference.