2014 Review Part 1 – The Gear

It’s been a long tough slog through this year following my wife’s illness and subsequent passing last year and I really haven’t kept up on things the way I was. ¬†I’m hoping to be able to change that and I’m starting up front of the New Year so it’s not just another silly resolution. ūüôā This update will concentrate on some new gear that went into steady use this year in the form of some mini reviews. The next one will focus on some of the projects I have had going this year as well as some plans for the near future.

Phil-Tone Equinox/Eclipse Hybrid

If you spend any time reading this blog you’ll see a lot of reviews of Phil’s stuff and you would think that I’m some kind of paid spokesman but the truth of the matter is I’ve just in found Phil someone who makes the kind of mouthpieces I like as well as someone who is open to sending mouthpieces out on pass around for people to try. Phil is also an awesome guy and a great craftsman.

Phil came out with an Equinox mouthpiece a couple years ago and it really sounded like something I would like but I was pretty comfortable with my Eclipse (the first piece I ever got from Phil not including his cleanup and refurb of my Otto Link Florida STM). I finally decided to pull the trigger and get one and you know what? I absolutely hated it! Well, hate is a strong word but it wasn’t what I thought I was going to get at all. I talked to Phil and he said to send it back and he would fix it for me…he had made it a little brighter than usual and that’s part of what I didn’t like. In the back and forth while he was fixing it he offered to undercut the table and open out the chamber in what he called an Equinox/Eclipse Hybrid. That sounded great so I went with that.

When I got it back I was absolutely thrilled and this has become my main piece after many years on the Eclipse. It’s a 7* (105) while my old Eclipse is an 8 (110). It’s a little easier to play because of the opening but the undercut table does require a little more air. This is something that may or may not be on Phil’s website but it’s something he can easily do and something he’s happy to provide. The lesson here is that by being open and communicating with him I was able to turn something that didn’t fit me at all into something I love.

Phil Tone Rift (alto)

I was playing on another of Phil’s alto pieces called an Aurora I think and it was good but I wanted something with a little more drive. It’s funny but on tenor I’m moving a little darker but on alto and bari I’m embracing the cut and edge. Phil had a sale on Sax on the Web Forum and one of the pieces was an unbranded Rift prototype.

The Rift is something that I think is rather unique to Phil. It has an interesting double baffle that looks a little like a clamshell. He used to make the baffle completely by hand but he recently started having blanks made to this new spec. This is one of those prototypes but I think it is very similar to the branded production models if not identical. This mouthpiece is a screamer that never loses it’s core…it’s like the best of both worlds and it’s probably the most fun I’ve ever had on alto. I’m using it with Van Doren Java 3 (green box) and they seem to be perfect for me. I’ll try to post an audio sample soon but it may be an edit after the first of the year.

Phil Barone customized Otto Link Tone Edge (bari)

Phil Barone is the other Phil I love to work with. He’s an amazing mouthpiece make and refacer. I started talking to him several years ago about doing the “Ronnie Cuber” treatment to a Tone Edge – apparently Phil did the work on Ronnie’s TE back early in his career…a sound I love. Now I know that a mouthpiece is not the ticket to sounding like someone but I also felt like it would at least have some of the characteristics I was looking for and I could handle the rest.

Phil did a reface with a new facing curve and he cleaned up the tip and rails extensively. The magic, though, is in the baffle work in my opinion. Phil takes out the rollover baffle and then adds a step baffle later in the chamber. The end result is a screamer that is both easy to play while allowing a ton of nuance and color. I don’t play nearly as much bari as I used to but this mouthpiece has replaced my Lawton which I’ve had for over 20 years. I think the mouthpiece I sent him was an 8 but I think the one I got back is more like a 7*.

I use Rico Select Jazz 3 Unfiled (at Phil’s suggestion) and they seem to match it really well. This is not something you’re going to be able to find easily and I doubt you will be able to get one from Phil. The baffle work is very labor-intensive and he told me he really didn’t want to mess with these any more. I’m just glad I was able to get one before he decided to stop. You can still get his regular pieces from him and he will do other refaces. He also sells amazing horns for great prices so he’s definitely someone to keep on your radar.

EWI 5000

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been an EWI guy for many years (probably more than 20). I’ve had pretty much every model since the 3020/3030 came out. My primary EWI for the last few years has been the 4000s but I didn’t ever use any of the internal sounds except maybe at rehearsal when I was being lazy. Instead I just used it as a driver for my virtual rack in my laptop. The 5000 was announced over a year ago I believe and I knew as soon as I saw the announcement I was going to have one. As it got closer to shipping I went ahead and pre-ordered one from Patchman Music.

The key selling points of the 5000 over previous versions are an enhanced synth engine with real samples (the 4000s was virtual analog), rechargeable internal batteries, and built-in wireless audio. I’ve had mine for ¬†couple months now and I really like it a lot. It was instantly comfortable because it feels just like my 4000s. The sounds are a mixed bag. There are definitely some much better sounds but they require a lot of tweaking (especiialy the overuse of effects) and there are WAY too many saxophone patches while there are absolutely no strings either solo or ensemble…that’s strange. I haven’t had a chance to use the wireless but I’m told it works as expected.

NOTE: Many people are confused about this but it is wireless audio only…Midi is NOT wireless in the 5000 but you can order wireless midi from Patchman. I really like the rechargeable internal batteries and I love that it hooks right up to the computer with the included USB cable. It’s like the best of the 4000s and the EWI USB all in one. All in all I’m pretty happy with this but I’m waiting for the Patchman patches that will make things even better.

Cannonball Big Bell Stone Series Tenor

I really need to post an actual review of this horn. I actually bought this horn over two years ago and it has been my main horn ever since. I love how it feels and people love how it sounds. I also love the way mine looks. So nothing actually new here but I just wanted to put that out there.

Always Leaves Me With a Huge Smile

Poster For This Year's Concert

Poster For This Year’s Concert

Every year for the last ten years I have been lucky enough to be a part of a big band Christmas concert to benefit Toys for Tots.  The band is called the Ken Ebo Big Bop Band and is lead by an incredible musician who both plays trombone and sings.  It features some of the best musicians in the Baltimore area Рsome of which I only get to see for this event.

I first started paying with the band over ten years ago when Ken was briefly out of the Marines and was teaching school in the Baltimore area. ¬†He started having a rehearsal band on Monday nights and his book was outstanding. ¬†That year he hosted the first one of these concerts at his school, Gilman. ¬†As a former Marine (at the time – he has since rejoined, served a term in Iraq, and currently teaches at the school of music) he was well connected with Toys for Tots and it was a perfect fit to have a big band concert featuring all Christmas music with the admission price being simply an unwrapped toy. ¬†The first year we mostly did stuff from the Kenton Christmas album and the big band was augmented with a French horn section as is appropriate for that music – a feature that has continued. ¬†Of course, the first concert was hampered by no one really knowing much about it and it was further hampered by the fact that it snowed…I think there were more people on stage than there were in the audience. ¬†As the years have passed we have gained a following and have increased the size of the venue not once but twice (first at Loch Raven High School and currently at Towson University in the Fine Arts Concert Hall). ¬†I’m one of only a handful of people who have done every single one of these and I’m honored for the opportunity.

This year we did some of the Kenton Christmas stuff but not as much as years past. ¬†We also did a lot of music from Tom Kubis, Gordon Goodwin, Harry Connick, and even some arrangements from Ken himself. ¬†Ken is an excellent singer and we’ve had the same female vocalist for the entire run, Tammy Temple Testerman. ¬†As a special treat this year we also had Ken’s wife Mary Jo join him for a Steve Lawrence/Edie Gourmet number and Ken’s two young children sang Away in a Manger with the band. ¬†We usually only have two rehearsals to get ready for a rather challenging book and this year I had to miss the dress rehearsal for a memorial service so it was a pretty challenging night for me. ¬†I played the lead tenor chair with some flute and clarinet doubles…I always have to dig out the clarinet and remem,ber how to play it because it seems like this is the only time I ever need it any more.

One cool thing for me was this was the first gig I’ve ever played with my new Cannonball tenor. ¬†It played like a dream. ¬†I used the fat neck because that’s the one that feels the most comfortable to me. ¬†The horn played very evenly throughout the range, the altissimo was practically effortless, and the intonation was spot on once I stopped making my usual unconscious adjustments from my other horn. ¬†I’m really happy with this horn and I’m loving being back on my Phil-Tone Eclipse. ¬†I still need to play out a little more with this setup but I will do full reviews of everything before the end of the year.

We had a nearly packed house and we collected a lot of toys.  We even had a Marine color guard march in the colors and a representative from Toys for Tots spoke and helped give out awards.  I was very excited that I was given a certificate commemorating my ten years of service (signed by a three-star general) as well as a cool personalized Christmas tree ornament.  We always hold the event on the second Sunday of December so save December 8th, 2013 if you want to see a big band Christmas concert and help out children in need at the same time.