Review: “Launch” – The Admiral Launch Duo
The oldest pieces in this highly original album of the saxophone and harp duo “Admiral Launch” is Marcel Tournier’s ” La Lettre du Jardinier”, published in 1912. Save for Ida Gotkovksy’s wonderful “Eolienne” from 1969, the rest is literally contemporary music, with wonderful discoveries. Saxophone player Jonathan Hulting-Cohen and harpist Jennifer R. Ellis present a full album of original, some commissioned pieces for these two instruments, and some highly successful transcriptions, some made by the original composers of the pieces.
Patrick O’Malley’s “Thaumaturgy” (tracks 7-9) is indeed full of magic tricks, incorporating any conceivable effect of the two instruments yet never sounds self-indulged, with the musical line clearly articulated. Christine Delphine Hedden’s “Amhrán na Cásca” (Track 10) is heartbreaking, with the middle, violent outburst giving a true meaning to the composer’s intent to ”…expresses the desolation of loss that wracks your being…”, as she explained in the nicely organized booklet.
The programming is highly effective, moving from the lyrical to dramatic, from the western to the eastern influenced. And there is some Jazz too; Listen to the fun ”Whirlwind” (Track 11), by composer Stephen Rush. Maybe less successful, to these ears at least, is a piece where studio effects are being incorporated, as in Angélica Negrón’s “Still Here” from 2017. The piece, says the composer… “explores the idea of trespassing from the perspective of emotionally abusive relationships…”. Programmatically this piece may be intriguing, but is unfortunately thin in musical material.
Yusef Lateef’s “Romance for soprano saxophone and harp” is perhaps the best performance in this album, full of relaxed, inner conviction and superb duo playing by Hulting-Cohen and Ellis. This multifaceted piece can hardly get a better representation. Originally written for either oboe or soprano saxophone, after listening to this performance I wouldn’t want to hear it in any other way, or in any other instrument.
A fascinating, highly engaging album, then. Nice recording quality too, though the production clearly favors the saxophone over the sometimes backward harp. Recommended.