The following review is taken from the Winter 2023 issue of Clarinet & Saxophone magazine. For more reviews, news, and features from the single-reed world, join to receive our quarterly magazine and other membership benefits.


Joshua Jaswon Octet
Ubuntu Music

This octet’s debut album, Silent Sea attracted huge critical acclaim, and rightly so. Now they are back with a superb new album that finds inspiration in contemporary poems by Elsa Hammond, Carrie Etter, Catherine Faulds, Claire Cox, Milo Koot, and bandleader Joshua Jaswon covering topics around water, ecology, and the climate crisis.

Joshua Jaswon is a saxophonist, composer, and arranger from London who is now based in Berlin. His octet brings together a group of formidably talented young players from across Europe who are inspiring both as an ensemble and as soloists in their own right. Jaswon’s arrangements for this group are exquisite – a creative symbiosis between the poetry and music. The writing is never ostentatious, always elegantly crafted, with imaginative use of the different textures off ered by this particular group of musicians. With text forming the basis of the compositions, a huge contributing factor to the success of the music is in no small part due to the beautiful singing of Dutch vocalist Anna Serierse, the timbre of whose voice works perfectly within the ensemble – bright, clear, with subtle vibrato – bringing the poetry to life.

The centrepiece of the album is the five-movement Seasick, based on the poem of the same name by Cox. Here the fragmentary nature of the poem is transformed into music which is based on short melodic phrases, though style, rhythm, and mood change in accordance with the meaning of the words.

One of my favourite tracks is the opener, Swimming in Winter. This perfectly illustrates the power and creativity of Jaswon’s writing. The track opens with electric guitar, drums, and bass playing a motif in steady seven time. They are joined by the horn players providing a simple rhythmic phrase in unison. Serierse sings the open lines of the poem by Elsa Hammond: “I gasp in winter / as I fall / back beneath water” – a smooth melody fl owing over the rhythm. On the word “shifting” in the next line of the poem the writing becomes contrapuntal and rises to a crescendo high in the treetop leaves: “shifting / the weight from my feet / to float/ weightless / as the treetop leaves.” There is a graceful and beautifully constructed alto solo from Jaswon, then at the end of the piece an extended coda with the vocalist repeating many times a more disjointed version of the opening rhythm. Over this saxophonist Marc Doff ey plays a brilliantly impassioned solo on soprano.

Both saxophonists are outstanding, but for me Doffey’s big muscular sound on both tenor and alto is a revelation.

Mike O’Brien