Entertainment, Reviews

Saxophone Sextet Present High-enegy Performance

by David K. Rodgers

GREENSBORO – The second concert in the Summer Music from Greensboro series was held Tuesday, July 25, in the Greensboro Church and featured a sextet of saxophone players with

the amusing name of “The Moanin’ Frogs.” The title derives from a combination of two songs in

their repertoire, “BullFrog Blues” and “Moanin’ Saxophones.”

Not knowing quite what to expect, everyone was pleasantly surprised at the utterly

enjoyable, up-beat, high-energy performance they gave of some 18 selections from a broad

musical spectrum. What made this concert so excellent was the variety of saxophones, seven,

ranging from the lowest bass to a high soprano, which played off against each other in

constantly interesting ways, and, above all the masterful transcriptions of the original tunes for

the group. The musicians were Edward Goodman, Gabriel Piquḗ, Jeff Siedfried, Jonathan

Hulting-Cohen, Jeffrey Leung and Lukas Hopkins, a number of whom began their association at

the University of Michigan but now live and teach in many different places, coming together

every year for tours.

“The Moanin’ Frogs” began by coming into the sanctuary playing a lively klezmer piece,

the “Wedding March” from “Hassenah,” composed by Jacque Press. This was followed by the

“Seventh Heaven Rag” by Stephen Rush in 7/4 time, which really got the toes tapping.Then they

played the “Graceful Ghost Rag” by William Bolcom, a deeply beautiful series of melodies with

tremendous feeling, written in memory of his father, a veritable loving musical portrait.

Scott Joplin’s classic “Maple Leaf Rag” was next, an utterly happy piece by one of the finest

Afro-American composers. “In the Mood” by Joe Garland was a dance tune of the 1930s and

’40s made popular by the Glenn Miller Orchestra. “Sleepwalker” by Raymond Scott had some

complexly scored passages and demonstrated the group’s playfulness in moving around,

interacting with each other, giving added visual interest to their performance. They were all

having fun!

“Melancholy Blues” by Marty Bloom was a favorite of Louis Armstrong, with a bouncy

rhythm and a singing voice quality to the instruments appropriate to the medium of the blues.

“Star-Crossed Lovers” by Duke Ellington was exquisitely orchestrated and well showed the

group’s fine ensemble presence. “El Cascabel” by Lorenzo Barcelato was a Mexican mariachi

piece with a festival atmosphere. Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Good” was an oldie with a catchy

tune and wailing sections that the saxophone can do so well.

After intermission, the “Moanin’ Frogs” came back into the sanctuary “moon walking” while

playing the beginning of Richard Strauss’s tone poem “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” in reference to

its use at the opening of “2001 a Space Odyssey.” “Fairie Round” by Antthony Holbourne was like

an English folk song. In a more Baroque vein, the three movements from J.S. Bach’s “Orchestral

Suite No. 2 in B Minor” were given a race to the finish in the first and third, but a more

appropriate tempo in the middle second, which better kept the beauty of the melody. “Malaguena,”

by Ernesto Lecuono, had a distinctly Spanish ambience. The traditional melody “Danny Boy”

combined the instrumental with the vocal as all the players sang the words to this melancholy

Irish love song. A great spoof was the arrangement for bass of W. A. Mozart’s “Queen of the

Night” aria from the “Magic Flute,” the joke being that this tune has some of the most challenging

high notes in all the opera repertoire, which very few sopranos can sing with finesse! The

“Bohemian Rhapsody,” by Freddie Mercury, was intricate with a peaceful ending. James Horner’s

“My Heart Will Go On” had a nice flowing quality finishing with only the soloist on stage as the

others left the room.

The standing ovation by the audience of over 100 brought the “Moanin’ Frogs” back for a

humorous encore with Rachmaninov’s “Flight of the BumbleBee” which seemed particularly

appropriate in a saxophone arrangement.

The next (and last) concert in the Summer Music from Greensboro season will be held

on Tuesday, August 8, at 7:30 p.m., at the Greensboro Church and will have music by the Ariel

Quartet. For more information go to summermusicfromgreensboro.net/.

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