Friday, March 11, 2005


The Billy Tipton Saxophone Quartet: Saxhouse. Posted by Hello

The celebration of Women's History Month continues at HurdAudio with an active listen to Saxhouse from 1992 by the Billy Tipton Memorial Saxophone Quartet.

Billy Tipton was a swing saxophonist and piano player from the northwest United States. Billy Tipton's professional life spanned more than fifty years of playing. When the 74 year old Billy Tipton passed away in 1989 it was revealed that Billy Tipton was a woman who had lived her entire life passing as a man.

The Billy Tipton Saxophone Quartet is an all-female saxophone plus drums ensemble. Most of the music on Saxhouse is composed or arranged by band leader Amy Denio. There is one track by Jessica Lurie (a fantastic saxophonist from Living Daylights), one by Marjorie de Muynck and one group composition.

Saxhouse kicks off with a tight arrangement of "Big Beat" by Iva Bittova. Amy Denio audibly counts in and a drum beat with hand claps by the quartet sets up the rhythmic framework for the piece. The saxophones enter into the groove and whimsically fill out this quick burst of groove heavy energy.

"Fat Bearded Lady Walks The Tightrope" by Courtney von Drehle is superbly arranged for the quartet by Amy Denio. The texture moves easily between solo with accompaniment and contrapuntal textures and also features a quick dose of polyrhythmic hand clapping texture.

"Saxhouse" is a satisfying funky number by Marjorie de Muynck. The baritone sax lays down some no nonsense bass lines that lock in with the drums while the rest of the group paints some improvisations over the top between harmonic iterations.

"Spanish Eye" by Amy Denio shows off a fresh range of sonic textures for quartet sans drums. With some great harmonizations and a formal structure that really draws me in this piece is a highlight of this listening experience.

"I Will Be Sad" by Amy Denio sets up with a drone texture with short lines bubbling out every so often until a melodic line emerges. The sound of four saxophones blended this way begins to resemble the timbre of an accordion.

The music on Saxhouse breathes with dynamic range and some smart harmonic voicings spread across the quartet. This spirited playing of music arranged and composed by women composers is a moving tribute to the life, memory and mystery of Billy Tipton.

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