Alto saxophonist Brodie West is a significant presence in the Toronto free jazz and improvised music communities, whether leading his own groups, like Eucalyptus, or contributing to Drumheller and the Lena Allemano Four. He has also established an international reputation, working with drummer Han Bennink, the band The Ex and the great Ethiopian saxophonist Getatchew Mekurya. Alexandra Park, named for the Toronto park where West used to practise, is a solo saxophone LP, a brief but challenging expedition into West’s sonic world.
The LP begins with a brief tape of West literally playing in the park, his quiet tones accompanied by children’s voices and recurring sounds, perhaps someone shooting hoops. This soon gives way to close recording in a studio: brief runs and muffled asides alternate with long tones, some beginning as multiphonic split tones, others gradually developing emphatic overtones. West produces gentle, flute-like timbres, sometimes merging them with suddenly articulated, hard-edged saxophone notes and whistling harmonics.
Some may hear this recording as an exploration in technique, but West’s intent seems to be very different. Though numerous techniques are present, this is absolutely human music, recorded so closely that West’s breath is an integral part of his saxophone sound; at times he’s literally mixing his own simultaneous mouth sounds with the horn. Silence too, is a significant presence, with the tape left running in the pauses between episodes. West reaches his highest level of expression on Side II, pressing from sustained shakuhachi-like cries to higher pitches that first turn to trills, then to multiphonics. It’s as impassioned as music gets.