Tom Weeks: Alto Saxophone Improvisations, April 29, 2020 2020. Tom Weeks, saxophone. Wolfsblood Digital Editions. Contents: The Breaks of The Game, Extreme Music for Extreme People, Eleven Rings, SOCom, Snake in The Grass, Pontius, Burial Blade, Soldiers. Digital Download, 8 tracks, (28:32). Bandcamp. $5.00 or more.
Tom Weeks is an Oakland, California-based saxophonist, composer, and improviser whose music is influenced by various African American musical traditions, the historical avant-garde, and heavy metal and hardcore traditions. His newest album Alto Saxophone Improvisations, April 29, 2020 marks his 26th release as a leader, with numerous other recording credits to his name as a side-man. Typically heard in duo or trio formations with long time collaborators Nathan Corder (electronics) and Leo Suarez (drums) as the band TONED, this album instead features eight tracks of solo acoustic alto saxophone improvisations.
While solo playing is a challenge for any saxophonist improviser given the lack of options available in that setting, it is handled well on this recording; Weeks is a true saxonaut, exploring the far-out timbres of the instrument and reaching for the outer limits to discover what is possible on the saxophone, then bending, warping, and ultimately shattering what is found therein. This album is a kick in the teeth, in the best possible way.
Clearly steeped in the free jazz tradition and drawing inspiration from the saxophone greats like Anthony Braxton, John Zorn, and Evan Parker, Weeks begins the album with the longest track, The Breaks of The Game. It is a high-energy display of stamina and technical prowess, its squonks and squeals ripping through the speakers. The Breaks ends with an unexpected spoken word segment, declaring “everyone in the entertainment industry is sick!” The album then pushes the envelope with Extreme Music for Extreme People, a study in the incredible soundworld that can be caused from biting the reed while playing. It is intense and high-pitched, but the variation of timbre and full spectrum of overtones created in this track is stunning.
Eleven Rings, SOCom, and Pontius offer different takes on a perpetual motion motif. The motif is a steady and constantly evolving machine groove rhythm; in each piece, it commences in a similar place, but unfolds differently, going in new and unexpected directions. Eleven Rings short circuits and glitches until the machine collapses in on itself with all circuits fried. SOCom is the shortest track on the album, and at just under two minutes, puts the machine underwater, underground, or in outer space, creating a different aural sphere by turning the saxophone into a stopped pipe, with either a knee or some other implement covering the bell to produce a hollow and distant sound. Pontius is longing and melancholic, distinct from the other two machine groove works.
Snakes in The Grass displays machine gun-like articulation, moving the furthest from a traditional saxophone sound. In Burial Blades, Weeks uses a battery of multiphonics and harmonies. The final track Soldiers is the most conservative track on the album. Weeks plays a true melody soulfully and then plays over the changes in a standard format of head-solo-head, utilizing again the language and vocabulary demonstrated over the previous seven tracks.
Fans of free jazz, avant-garde improvisation, and the saxophone should take note of this incredible album from Tom Weeks.