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.

Phil-Tone Theo Wanne Mosaic Review

I’ve been involved in quite a few mouthpiece pass arounds recently and most of them were from Phil-Tone (made by Phil Engleman). Previously I reviewed the hard rubber Sapphire and the metal Tribute (a collaboration with Theo Wanne). Today I want to talk about the Mosaic, another collaboration between Phil and Theo Wanne. Like the Tribute this is a metal mouthpiece based on a classic approach. It is not based on any particular mouthpiece but has been described as having a similar feel and sound to the old original Dukoff mouthpieces. The one I tried was a “factory second” although the only differences from the real production version were purely cosmetic – there was a mouthpiece patch on during plating so that area is disclorored…I thought it looked kind of cool.

Appearance

The Mosaic is on the left. Tribute on the right.

The Mosaic is on the left. Tribute on the right.

The Mosaic is a beautiful bit of work. Phil and Theo are both known for their attention to detail and their ability to deliver a precision-made, hand-finished mouthpiece. The rails and tip are thin, even, and seemingly perfect to the naked eye. The whole mouthpiece is finished in silver and bead blasted for a very interesting and pleasing look (just like the Tribute). This is a very large bore mouthpiece with a fairly minimal rollover baffle. It’s about the same profile as an Otto Link so it accepts the same size ligatures and has a comfortable mouth feel if you’re used to Links like I am.

How Does It Play?

I found this mouthpiece to be more comfortable and more versatile than the Tribute. It was more even through the registers and the upper register was more gutsy and full in general. The lower register was just as full to me It tended to be a little dark but very full and rather room-filling. I spent some time with it at a big band rehearsal, on a gig with an R&B band, and recording it in my little studio. When I first tried it on the big band rehearsal, it didn’t last long for me. The big band is for a recording session later this year and it’s predominantly a vehicle for trumpet players…translation – It’s LOUD! The mouthpiece was so new to me that I didn’t know how to get the most volume out of it and it just seemed like I would be fighting a losing battle. The tone was nice but I just didn’t want to fuss with it at that time.

The second time I used it was with one of my regular bands, Jr. Cline and the Recliners. We were playing at a local casino in a nice room with a solid PA and monitors so I just decided to commit to it since I should be able to hear myself well all night. Well it turns out I was wrong about that because you can never underestimate the ability of guitars to overwhelm any given situation. On a side note, they had a bunch of those plexiglas barriers and it should be noted they rarely if ever work as expected. If it’s not a fully-enclosed system then it can’t possibly work but people often hear with their eyes first and I digress.

On that gig the mouthpiece was comfortable and full but I felt like I had to work way too hard and blow much more air than usual to get the sound I needed to sound appropriate in that setting. I was able to get around the horn really well but the altissimo was some work. The book is actually written over the full range of the horn with more written low notes than a lot of other two-horn books and all ranges were playable but still more work than I would like except for the low notes which spoke really well.

When I played it in my studio, I really liked it a lot. I think this was in no small way because I was more comfortable than ever with the mouthpiece. It was also true because I was in a very controlled environment where I could hear myself really well without competing with other instruments. In this setting I found out why people are really flocking to this mouthpiece because it is smooth and silky with the ability to roar when pushed. I think the problem I have with playing it live is my ability to hear it from behind the horn. When it’s hard to hear it’s important to have a feel for what is coming out the end of the horn and I could not get comfortable with that especially compared to my regular mouthpiece which is really excellent for that.

In conclusion, like some of the other stuff I’ve tested recently, this is a mouthpiece I could use if I was playing a different kind of music on a regular basis or if I was prone to switching mouthpieces for changing circumstances…I’m not. Of the three recent mouthpieces I’ve tried from Phil-Tone I like this one the second best but I really think it would grow on me if it was all I played for a long period of time. This is the kind of mouthpiece that you would want to invest time and effort in rather than something that’s just going to be perfect the first time you put it on. I actually liked the Sapphire the best but I’m more comvinced than ever that my Eclipse is the perfect mouthpiece fo all of the things I do right now.

The Clip

This is a fairly long clip because I was having a lot of fun playing this piece. As with all recent recordings it was recorded directly into Reason on my MacBook Pro using a Fat Head Ribbon microphone through a Balance interface. I think you can hear how flexible and full it is but I didn’t necessarily push it as hard as I could or would in certain settings but that’s probably true of everything I do in the studio.

Phil-Tone Sapphire Review

Phil did't have pictures on his website so I grabbed these from Tenor Madness - a great sax shop and a dealer for these mouthpieces.

Phil didn’t have pictures on his website so I grabbed these from Tenor Madness – a great sax shop and a dealer for these mouthpieces.

Hot on the heels of getting the chance to review Phil Engleman’s collaboration with Theo Wanne, the Tribute, I recently received the Sapphire to try out. Well, to be fair it’s been a month and a half and not “hot on the heels” but it’s been harder to get back rolling on this blog than I thought it would be. Being a single dad really puts a crimp in your available time. For instance, I was interrupted 4 times before I got this far in my writing today. ūüôā

Introduction

Anyway, back to business. The Sapphire is a replacement for something Phil has been doing for years and I believe the thing he started with before making his own mouthpieces. Phil has always had a knack for taking stock, off-the-shelf Otto Link Tone Edge mouthpieces (known for being wildly inconsistent at best) and turning them into powerhouse, monster players. The process involved lots of steps to fix the tip and rails, adjust the “floor”, open the chamber, and possibly the most important, adjusting the baffle. The intent was to take these modern, inconsistent, and possibly flawed pieces and turn them into something that felt and sounded more like the old “slant signature” Tone Edge mouthpieces. The slant signature being the most well known and sought after Tone Edge of all time. He has done this for many years but recently decided to work directly with J.J. Babbitt company (makers of the current Otto Link and Meyer lines of mouthpiece) to have a blank made just for him that would allow him to produce consistent and superior results without as much busy work just to get to square one. Based on what I was able to play I think he’s on to something special.

This is the only identifying marking on the mouthpiece

This is the only identifying marking on the mouthpiece

 Appearance

A couple years ago when I bought my first mouthpiece from Phil I posted a review on Sax on the Web Forum (long before I started this blog) I expressed a thought about the appearances of mouthpieces that feels appropriate here. Based on the effect people ascribe to mouthpiece construction, materials, etc. it’s odd that good ones don’t look all that different from the “bad” ones. I mean it seems like the ones that really play should glow or have a pearlescent sparkle like the tears of a unicorn but the reality is that the naked eye can’t necessarily see a whole lot of difference from one mouthpiece to another. You can definitely spot a particularly bad example but the differences between good and great mouthpieces are very hard to discern sometimes. The Sapphire looks different from all of Phil’s other custom pieces. It is a little shorter from end to end with a shorter shank that has two cuts. As with all of Phil’s work, the tip and rails are absolutely immaculate. Also there isn’t a ton of baffle in the rather spacious chamber. The beak seems like it might be a little higher and of a sharper angle than his other pieces as well and that’s actually good for me because I have become more comfortable with a higher profile mouthpiece over the years. The one I have may be more on the prototype side as well because there are very few markings on it at all. The mouthpiece I tried is a 7* – right in my comfort zone. I used a Rigotti Gold 3 Strong reed and a Francois Louis Pure Brass ligature.

How Does It Play?

If you read my review of the Tribute you might remember that I intended to use it on a gig but bailed at the last minute because it didn’t seem like it was going to fit the gig both from a sound profile as well as from my ability to discern and hear myself in a rough monitoring situation. With the Sapphire it was a very different situation. I found myself playing the exact same gig with mostly the exact same band. I hadn’t had a chance to play the mouthpiece prior to the gig but I was game to try it so I slapped one of my reeds on and got to work. This mouthpiece was instantly comfortable to me. Not only that but it was close enough to how I usually sound that I was easily able to pick myself out of the monitor mix even though it was a bit of a messier mix than the last time we played there. The overall feel was a little darker than I am used to these days so I had to work a little harder than I would normally want to but the evenness of tone and intonation was exactly what I would hope for.

When I was able to try it in my studio I was still very happy with the sound and happily played the mouthpiece for quite a while as I put it through its paces. I’m pretty sure this could easily be my every day mouthpiece except for a couple of things none of which are knocks on the mouthpiece: First, I already have a Phil-Tone Eclipse that has been my main piece for several years and it is easier to play a bit brighter the way I like to sound in most of the musical situations I find myself in. Second, when I am looking for something on the darker, smokier, Blue Note side of things (a sound the Sapphire excels at) I already have an Equinox D mouthpiece from Phil that I have reviewed previously – The Equinox D is now called the Aurora I believe. If I didn’t already have the comfort of Phil’s other pieces and the sonic spectrum so well covered already I never would have let this mouthpiece go on to the next person in the pass around.

Not a ton of baffle in there and no "unicorn tears"

Not a ton of baffle in there and no “unicorn tears” ūüôā

The Clip

I just finished editing the clip – snipping out unwanted sections and converting to MP3. There were no changes other than that…It was recorded direct to Reason on my Mac using a Cascade Fat Head ribbon microphone through a Propellerheads Balance audio interface. I simply normalized everything and then did the snipping. It’s pretty obvious I have a lot of comfort with this mouthpiece and, listening back, I really love the sound of it. As I said, if I didn’t feel like I already had the sonic territory and comfort of this mouthpiece well covered it would not have left my grubby little hands. The clip is a little long but I was having a great time so bonus points if you listen to the whole expanse of mindless noodling. ūüôā

Phil-Tone Theo Wanne Tribute Review

The Tribute

The Tribute

Introduction

I’ve talked before about mouthpieces from Phil Engleman. I wrote a review about one of his Equinox Dark mouthpieces and one of his original Custom mouthpieces has been my main piece for several years with the exception of a brief foray with a Phil Barone Super New York. Earlier this year, I saw Phil was talking on Sax on the Web Forum about an exciting new project he wanted to work on. I emailed him and found out he was working with Theo Wanne to make an exact copy of the old Florida metal Otto Link mouthpieces. These have long been regarded as some of the most versatile and best-playing mouthpieces out there but you can’t get them any more unless you want to spend a lot of money to get a used vintage one. Phil and Theo wanted to find an excellent example and use modern technology like laser mapping, 3D printing, and CNC milling to make something that was not only great playing and affordable but also consistent – something that even Florida era Otto Links were not.

pt-1-logoThis idea was exciting to me because I had an excellent Florida Link that was my main mouthpiece for many years to the point that I had to stop playing it because I had used up the bite plate and it had taken a fall and the tip had some issues. Several years ago I started my association with Phil by having him restore this mouthpiece for me. Fast forward to this year and there was actually a good chance that my mouthpiece might be used as the “blank” to get them a starting point. Unfortunately my piece is an 8* and Phil and Theo were looking for a 7* as that was what they wanted to base the line on (it’s one of the most commonly used tip openings especially in Links). Still I was very excited to get my hands on the mouthpiece but several uncontrollable factors like summer vacations and my wife’s illness kept it out of my hands until this holiday season.

Appearance

The first thing you will notice about the Tribute is just how precise and lovingly crafted it is. The tip and rails are absolutely pristine – a hallmark of Phil’s work and the overall look of the mouthpiece is very attractive with a bead-blasted finish and excellent logo work. I’ve never played a Theo Wanne mouthpiece but I believe this level of build quality is something he is known for as well. There is a gentle rollover baffle, the sidewalls are scooped out and the chamber is large. It ships with a Theo Wanne Enlightened ligature with two pressure plates but the version I tried had no ligature. I ended up using a Francois Louis Ultimate although a Rico H fit just fine also.

Another view

Another view

How Does it Play?

Playing the Tribute was easy and fun. As I said, I’m very comfortable with a Florida Link after years of playing one and this was as comfortable as an old friend pretty much from the start. I used Rigotti Gold 3 Strong reeds and they seemed like a pretty good fit. It’s possible I would eventually go with a 3 Medium but I probably wouldn’t go stronger for fear of the mouthpiece sounding too tubby. The best words to describe the sound I got would be full, round, and velvety. It makes you want to play ballads especially ones that feature the low end of the horn because the low notes are absolutely stellar. It subtones like a dream and the sound just filled up my little practice room/studio. You can easily transition from soft to loud and, like other Links, it picks up some pleasing brightness when pushed. Pitch was generally very good and the tone remained centered and even throughout the range of the horn. The only problem for me was that the upper register seemed like it didn’t want to brighten up enough for the kind of music I usually get called to play. Sometimes I could blow harder and it would open and brighten up enough and other times it sounded a little pinched to my ears. This could be the result of the fact that I am used to playing a hard rubber mouthpiece with a much bigger beak as I am much more comfortable with that these days. One thing to keep in mind is that Florida Links don’t all play the same as I mentioned above. Some are darker and some are brighter. My Link is a little brighter than this but it’s also a bigger tip opening. I think this piece tends to be darker than some other Florida Links.

My original intention was to take it out on a gig I had with a soul, R&B band I play with out of DC and Northern VA but I ended up not using it on that gig for several reasons. First off, I could tell that there would be issues with the monitoring situation on stage and I didn’t want to get lost in the mix. If I’m on my usual setup I can find myself sonically even in bad situations but I didn’t have confidence I could do that with the Tribute in this situation. Also, there was another tenor player on the gig and he wan’t just any tenor player. He’s a legend in the area named Al Williams and he’s a flat out player who’s been around with the likes of Stanley Clarke and Mongo Santamaria. I didn’t want to do anything that would potentially keep me from being my absolute best that night. Because of that I couldn’t take the mouthpiece on the gig

Conclusion

I really loved this mouthpiece and under certain circumstances I think I could easily make this my main piece except for two things. First, I don’t really get to play in those types of situations as much anymore. If I was playing more straight ahead jazz in smaller rooms then yes but I tend to play funk, soul, and R&B in loud bars and theaters. Second, I have come to the conclusion over the years that I am just more comfortable on mouthpieces with bigger beaks so that my jaw is naturally opened wider. Metal mouthpieces just don’t have those kinds of beaks and I tend to get fatigued much quicker on them these days as a result. I’m told Phil might be working on a more in-your-face version of this mouthpiece called the Mosaic and that might make me think hard about going back to a metal mouthpiece again but we’ll see.

Clips and a Different Kind of Tribute

If you’ve been reading my blog at all then you know that I haven’t been posting much lately. In my last post I explained that my wife, Sue, was having some rather serious health issues. I won’t go into all of the details here but she finally succumbed to a terrible illness called Fatal Familial Insomnia on December 18th so I now find myself a single dad to my two boys. I miss her very much and that’s reflected in these clips. Both are single-take “moments in time” that I recorded on the evening my wife’s funeral and the following evening. I thought about going back and re-recording or “fixing” some things or even adding some reverb or EQ but ultimately decided that they should stay as raw and original as possible to remain as a record of what I was feeling those nights and many nights since her diagnosis in July. The first is some noodling and then When I Fall in Love and the second one is My One and Only Love – a song I’ve dedicated to her many times over the years. You get to hear them warts and all:

I love you Sue and I miss you more than you can know.

Crack the Sky and Getting Ready For New Stuff

Last night the Crack Pack horns (same as the Retox Horns – Dave Makowiecki, Jim McFalls, and me) played with Crack the Sky at Ram’s Head Live in Baltimore. The place was absolutely packed and we had a great time. We played two of the songs we recorded for the most recent CD, Ostrich, as well as the “usual suspects” of Skin Deep, She’s a Dancer, Mind Baby, and I Am the Walrus from the Beatles (always the closer). I once again played the Cannonball Raven tenor because it’s really tight and the intonation is pretty well locked in. I am still having trouble with a sticky G# key that is really getting on my nerves but I’m getting better at prepping the horn to limit it as much as possible. I’m mostly annoyed because I took it back where I bought it to have them look at it, it took them ten days to get it done, and it’s still exactly the way it was. I’m going to take it to my regular tech soon.

I’m also getting ready to play some high-profile gigs with Jr. Cline and the Recliners. The first one is in two weeks at the Bethesda Jazz and Blues Supper Club in Bethesda, MD. I’ve played with Daryl before but it was with the smaller club band, This gig is the first of a series with a ten-piece group (three horns) and I’ll most likely be playing alto and bari (bari for sure but it looks like alto will be a double). I’m pretty much caught up to where I was years ago on the bari with the possible exception of some endurance but I’ve been practicing a decent amount on alto to make sure that’s up to speed as well. I was playing alto in New Monopoly but only on a couple of tunes a night. I’m liking it more and more. I just had my horn (Buffet 400) in to the shop for some adjustment and it feels awesome. I’m also really happy with the Phil-Tone Custom (now called an Aurora) that has been my main piece for a couple of years.

I have been writing a lot of charts to get ready for the gig because there is no Eb book and it’s just too mind-bendingly hard to sight transpose the Bb book for me. I am still using Muse Score for this because it’s both free and (at least for me) very easy to use. I like the fact that I can enter everything ¬†need with the computer keyboard and a mouse so I can work on charts wherever I have access to a computer. I’ve achieved a great comfort level with this entry method and can get through several tunes an hour if I’m not too distracted. I don’t even bother printing them out because I read everything from my iPad these days. I just export as a PDF, upload them to my Dropbox folder as a backup and then grab them from the pad. If I was doing more charts I would probably consider going for Sibelius but for my purposes, this free program does everything I need.

 

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.

Phil-Tone Equinox D Review

This is probably the first of several reviews of mouthpieces from Phil Engelmann who makes and refaces mouthpieces under the name of Phil-Tone. ¬†Over the last few years I have bought several of his mouthpieces, had him work on one of mine, and bought one of his refaced mouthpieces as well. ¬†Today I’m going to be talking about one of his custom pieces called the Equinox D (for dark) but first some explanation about why I wanted to get this mouthpiece.

I had previously talked about the reunion concert I did. ¬†Well that was concert band music and I didn’t feel like I had a mouthpiece that would do that kind of music justice so I started to hunt around. ¬†When I was in college I used to have an H. Couf 5* Artist Regular that I used for “legit” playing and I really liked it a lot. ¬†James Houlik had come to my school for a clinic and he was talking them up a lot so I ordered one and it was one of the best moves I ever made. ¬†Unfortunately I must have lent it to someone and never gotten it back because it’s nowhere to be found…a story I seem to repeat a lot.

Fast forward a few years. ¬†I was getting ready to go on the road with the Glenn Miller Orchestra and I bought an Otto Link Tone Edge 6* that I also ended up loving dearly. ¬†It felt perfect for what I was doing at the time. ¬†Unfortunately, I think that one suffered the same fate as the Couf. ¬†The guys I knew back in the day were pretty fast and loose about lending mouthpieces around and I guess I wasn’t real good on follow up myself.

Anyway, the Couf would have been absolutely perfect but I couldn’t see my way clear to invest money in a mouthpiece that was strictly for concert band play because I so rarely do it. ¬†I started thinking about just getting a Tone Edge in a 6* because I figured it could work for the concert band but it might have other applications as well. ¬†I contacted to Phil to ask about one of his reface jobs on a TE (since he does great things with them) and while we were talking I I decided to take the plunge on the Equinox D as it sounded like a better choice for me. ¬†It was and here’s why:

Phil makes a regular Equinox that is very focused and I thought the extra focus would be better than the Link which I would normally describe as more spread even when they’ve been worked on. ¬†But I also wanted to blend, hence the “D” model. ¬†I can say for sure that this mouthpiece has a great mix of focus and “darkness” although darkness is a rather subjective term…one person’s dark is another’s tubby. ¬†Maybe the best description would be “smoky”. ¬†It’s equally subjective but possibly more descriptive.

The first time I used it other than trying it in my practice room was on the first rehearsal for the concert band.  I was very happy with it right from the start.  I was able to play very evenly across the whole range of the horn (especially well in the lower register when playing quietly) and it blended well in all of the situations that came up.  In concert band music it seems like the tenor can be part of the sax section,  the trombone section, or the French horn section depending on the intention of the composer or arranger and I had no problem blending with any of the groups.

The next time I tried it was for a jazz sextet gig I played.  Nothing crazy, just a summer bandshell concert with alto, trumpet, and me on tenor and three rhythm playing standards.  This was a lot different, though because I was playing with more edge and presence than in the concert band (obviously) and with the addition of some altissimo.  Once again, I was very happy with the blend but I was also very happy with the freedom I felt to play whatever I needed to.  We did a mix of standards including funkier stuff, swing, and ballads and I always felt like my tone fit and I could play with the whole arsenal so to speak.

Always two there are

Always two there are

I also use the Equinox D when I teach. ¬†I don’t teach much anymore because I’m generally too busy but I do have one lone student right now (like a Sith Lord). ¬†It’s great for lessons because I can easily go from playing etudes and classical duets to playing standards in the second part of the lesson and it all sounds idiomatic.

The mouthpiece is very clean and refined looking and the finishing work appears to be immaculate. ¬†It is very reed friendly – in fact it easily uses the same reeds that I have broken in for my usual gig mouthpiece even though that one is a 7*. ¬†Phil himself is an absolute joy to work with. ¬†We generally handle our business via email and he’s always very helpful and supportive. ¬†I was under a bit of a time constraint from when I decided to order the mouthpiece until my first rehearsal and he got it to me just in time even though we are on opposite coasts.

I’ve tried the mouthpiece on my more commercial gigs like with my usual wedding band but I haven’t pulled the trigger on making it my only mouthpiece. ¬†It’s not a problem with the tone, volume, or response – in fact, it plays very well…it’s just easier to execute my concept for that style of music with my other setup. ¬†I keep pulling it out so it’s possible I could get there with this piece or possibly either a 7 or 7* in the D or maybe switching to the regular Equinox…but I’m saving for a new backup horn right now so that will have to wait. ¬†That said, I would not hesitate to recommend this mouthpiece, the regular Equinox, or anything Phil touches to students or other pros because the workmanship is great, the price, which is amazing for the level of quality, and Phil’s personality and work ethic. ¬† Check them out and you won’t be sorry.

Here’s a little mindless noodling:

http://barrycaudill.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/Equinox-D-Test.mp3

While writing this I was listening to If Dreams Come True by Carolyn Leonhart and Wayne Escoffery.  Great album!