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Three book/playaling reviews


West Berks
Here's a short review of two playalong book/Cd combos and a book of studies I've been working my way through recently. I hope they are of use to others.

Latin Themes for Tenor Saxophone - Schott Master Play-along Series ED12998

Within minutes of putting on the backing CD and playing La Bamba for the first time, the lovely Mrs M. came dancing into my den in approval. This playalong is a delight. The backing tracks are excellent and very professional sounding. It makes such a difference to play along to real instruments that are both well played and recorded. You get two tracks for every tune; one with sax and a saxless version. As well as La Bamba, there are several latin favourites included: La Cucuracha, The Peanut Vendor's Song, Volare, Mexican Hat Dance (an easy tune for someone at around ABRSM grade 3 I reckon) The other tunes are a bit more challenging and are probably more appropriate to someone at grade 4-5; these include Piazzola's Libertango, and Todo Buenos Aires as well as a couple of Carlos Jobim tunes - Wave and Song of the Jet. You can probably tell that I'm a bit of a fan of this book. I don't think there is a duff tune in the dozen included in the compilation, but that may just reflect my taste. If you enjoy latin music I can highly recommend this. I believe there is a version available for alto saxophone too. One last comment. The CD also includes PDFs of piano accompaniments for all tracks, so if you know a keyboard player and want to play these as duets you can.

Best of Bach - 12 Solo Arrangements with CD accompaniment ISBN 978-1-60378-139-8

This probably won't appeal to the majority of Cafe members; it's not exactly jazzy. I guess whether you like the music of JS Bach or not is a personal matter. In any case, what any of us think of it is neither here nor there in the grand scheme of things. I bought this book/CD as I think much of Bach's music requires a particular attention to rhythmic precision to sound right and that's an area where I am struggling with at the moment. Several of Bach's lollipops are included - airy G strings, safely grazing sheep, awaking sleepers and Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring. The bulk of the remaining tracks are selections from the Brandenburg Concerti. As with the latin book, I'd say it was suited to grade 4-5 players. Now the backing track CD. Oh dear! If a synthesised orchestra and harpsichord weren't bad enough, you get the sax part played on some xylophone sounding thing. There are no xylophone free tracks either, so you are shadowed by it plonking loudly away everytime you play the backing track. This is a shame as the music selection is fine, but spoilt by the naffness of the backing CD.

Amazing Studies for Saxophone - Boosey and Hawkes

If you are like me you will have books with names like "progressive studies" and the like that we plough our way through, struggling to make them sound worth listening to. If you fancy something more interesting, this may be what you're looking for. I bought it at the request of my teacher as I'd been muttering about working through yet another worthy but tedious study. Let me quote from the introduction "I have selected the pieces because they are enjoyable, "real" pieces. They work without an accompaniment and have been arranged to help you improve your technique in the most enjoyable way". I wouldn't disagree with any of that. The pieces appear to be aimed at players in the grade 4-6 range. Most would be classed as classical or folk music, for example I'm currently working on a couple of klezmer tunes from the book that I really like. If you want an antidote to the typical book of torture studies, you could do worse than buy this.

If you've found this review useful (and even if you haven't), please post comments on any sax books you've got. It would be nice to know which ones members really appreciate and which are the turkeys.
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Thank you for these reviews. I am sure that subscribers will find them a useful starting point for their own searches.

I don't have any playalong books, but I have recently come across a book that players between about Grade and Grade 4 may wish to look at:

Stanislas Verroust, 24 Melodic Studies for Oboe or Saxophone, Volume 1, published by Gerard Billaudot. Volume 1 contains twelve etudes of one page each in major and minor keys. It would be mainly of interest to those who plan in time to tackle things like the 48 Ferlings, but of course it is much easier.

The one drawback I see about this volume is that it doesn't go above high D or below low C. OTH, even though it is a French publication, it is quite inexpensive. I have not yet seen Volume 2.
Strangely enough, I don't have any good play-along recommendations that are meant for the sax, but there are two trumpet books with CD's that I constantly use with the tenor sax (since both instruments transpose in the same key). No reason why they wouldn't be good for the soprano too.

The Jazz Method for Trumpet
by O'Neill and Waterman

This was recommended by forum member TomMapfumo when I was asking about starting on the flugelhorn/trumpet. While it's a method book for beginners, the pace picks up really fast, and the latter half of the book includes some rather difficult tunes. I haven't really used it as a method book for a long time, but as a play-along book, as all of the songs work very well on the tenor sax.

Most of the songs are originals, and surprisingly many of them are really good - a few of them are so catchy they would probably be standards if they were written fifty years ago. There's also a hefty number of standards by jazz greats such as Davis, Gillespie, Hubbard, Mingus etc.

The backing tracks are very good, and you can choose to play with or without the lead trumpet by muting the left channel. The backing instruments, aside from the drums, are rather unconventionally the electric guitar and electric bass instead of the ubiquitous piano and double bass. They work really well though.

Amazing Phrasing for Trumpet by Taylor and Herrman

I went looking for a saxophone play-along book in the library, but came back with this. A ton of great ideas and examples for improvisation. Quite heavy on your understanding of chord structures, and really makes you go through even the nasty keys with a ton of sharps or flats. (Of course not so relevant for the trumpet, because on the trumpet all fingerings are equally easy, save for those few low notes you have to use the 3rd valve slide/trigger to adjust the tuning.)

A CD is included, but this book has so much stuff that you'd actually need two CD's to get everything together. Most of the tracks are without any lead instrument, but there are a few demo songs with the lead trumpet included. I would have much preferred a CD with just the backing and a CD with a demonstration lead, or the lead panned completely to the right or left channel so you could mute it.

I ended up using this with the tenor sax more than the trumpet, because most of the exercises / examples are too difficult for me to handle on the trumpet just yet. :D

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