Admiral Launch Duo

Admiral Launch Duo's debut CD reviewed by The WholeNote

“Launch” may be described as a way to introduce something new, which is precisely what the US-based Admiral Launch Duo is achieving with their uncanny/intriguing instrumentation. Since their 2013 Fresh Inc Festival debut, saxophonist Jonathan Hulting-Cohen and harpist Jennifer R. Ellis have spent years working together. Their debut 10-composition release features wide-ranging stylistic commissions, transcriptions and premiere recordings.

Five Admiral commissions are included. Patrick O’Malley’s three-movement Thaumaturgy is a current day exploration of harp and sax effects. Amazing how the performers can match colours on two such diverse instruments in an arpeggiated ripple section, while the loud programmatic final meteor movement stuns with harp glissandos and high pitch sax notes. More wailing sax extreme high dramatics with mournful contrasts appear in Christine Delphine Hedden’s  Amhran na Casca, while dark low and high tones emulate emotional distress in Angelica Negron’s  Still Here. Close atonal interchanges and tight playing are heard on Jasper Sussman’s …nice box! “Oh So Square”  and  Natalie Moller’s nature-inspired starshine & moonfall.

The other works include changes of sonic pace. Highlights include traditional Romantic harmonies and melodies in the duo’s arrangement of Marcel Tournier’s  La Lettre du Jardinier, and a contemplative lyrical harp part against sensitive saxophone phrasing and surprising flute-like tone fluttering on composer Ida Gotkovsky’s own arrangement of her Eolienne.

Musical common sense assumes that it just won’t work but like anything different, the Admiral Launch Duo’s talent, balance and sonic experimentation blossoms with repeated listening.

Tiina Kiik

Cleveland Classical reviews "Launch" by the Admiral Launch Duo

by Hannah Schoepe

As the month of Valentines Day and love, February is abundant with hearts and couples of all kinds. The Admiral Launch Duo’s new album Launch could be seen as an “opposites attract” type of situation. Not many musicians had thought of bringing the saxophone and harp together until Jonathan Hulting-Cohen (saxophone) and Oberlin and CIM grad Jennifer R. Ellis (harp) came along. Released by Albany Records in December 2018, the album showcases 18 tracks of uniquely crafted music.

The sense of ensemble is wonderfully exacting throughout as the duo creates contrasting moods with exceptional poignancy. The album has excellent sound quality — the only shortfall is the different dynamic capabilities between the instruments combined with the harp’s inability to sustain notes at length, making the saxophone the dominating force.

The repertoire was mostly commissioned by the duo, including Natalie Moller’s Starshine & Moonfall, Patrick O’Malley’s Thaumaturgy, Christine Delphine Hedden’s Amhrán na Cásca and Kitchen Dance, Stephen Rush’s Whirlwind, Angélica Negrón’s Still Here, and Jasper Sussman’s …nice box! “Oh So Square.” The remaining tracks are arranged from previously existing works for harp and either flute, voice, or oboe. Clearly the newcomer in this genre is the saxophone, but Hulting-Cohen embraces the role whole-heartedly, making the instrument shine in a bright new light.

The playlist is wrought with a vast range of emotions, beginning with Ida Gotkovksy’s five-movement suite Eolienne. The first movement, “Lyrique,” is mysterious and scintillating. The second, “Intermezzo,” brings warmth and playfulness, reminiscent of children playing in the park on a sunny day. In the final movement, “Declamatoire,” Ellis brings out her harmonies with striking clarity and precision.

Starshine & Moonfall is magnificent, introducing an abundance of intriguing harmonies. The saxophone carries the melody throughout, occasionally taking on the chord arpeggiation from the harp. In the liner notes, Moller describes the inspiration she drew from nature, calling the piece an “evensong that charts the waning of a day through a horizon embraced by sunset, the unfurling of twilight, and the radiance of a star-speckled midnight.”

The duo breaches new territory with Whirlwind, an inventive composition the composer characterized as a “Funk-Indian Toccata plus a slow cadenza.” Hulting-Cohen whirls through his many notes with captivating enthusiasm, propelled along by the jazzy rhythms he shares with Ellis.

After Negrón’s heartbreaking Still Here, which explores conflicting and contradictory emotions in abusive relationships, comes Sussman’s …nice box! “Oh So Square,” the wackiest track on the album. Wackier than a “Funk-Indian Toccata plus a slow cadenza,” one might ask?

The answer is yes. Hulting-Cohen explores a tremendously wide range of sounds — even creating a very real-sounding scream. Sussman marks the opening of his score with this message: “think Moody Dinosaur…you’re a baby dinosaur, you’re upset—are you sad? Angry? You can’t decide!” More concretely, he describes the work as exploring “the excitingly personal space between fixed and free, a space where experimentation, storytelling, and a unique state of presence are all embraced and celebrated” — and the duo play it with gusto.

The Classic Review: "A fascinating, highly engaging album"

Review: “Launch” – The Admiral Launch Duo

Tal Agam - February 15, 2019

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.

CineMusical reviews Admiral Launch Duo's "Launch"

The Admiral Duo:
Jonathan Hulting-Cohen, saxophones.  Jennifer R. Ellis, harp.
Albany TROY 1752
Total Time:  75:24
Recording:   ****/****
Performance: ****/****

The combination of saxophone and harp seems a rather odd one with each instrument more associated with different musical genres.  In this new Albany release, the Admiral Duo makes the case for the combination through a variety of works both newly-commissioned and transcribed as they explore ten works for this unique combination.

Two works are transcription of previous material.  The album opens with Eolienne (1969) by Ida Gotkovsky (b. 1933) which was originally composed for flute and rearranged by the composer in 1978.  It is an early example of this unique combination of saxophone and harp which is explored across its five movements.  The attention to line and how this color is shaped has one foot in Impressionism, but the music’s aesthetic is modern.  The opening “Lyrique” has a rather sensuous beginning.  The music is tonal with interesting harmonic shifts that move us beyond traditional harmonic motion while the solo line floats above these arpeggiated chords in the harp.  The following “Intermezzo” is a wonderful waltz with beautiful flowing lines.  A somber “Intense” movement provides nice contrast.  The “Perpetuum Mobile” gives Hulting-Cohen to show off his virtuosic ability in rapid passagework that seems to spin out of control.  This is matched in the harp as well making for a nice contrast.  The piece ends with the beautiful “Declamatoire”.  This is a strong work with wonderful lyrical writing.  The character does not seem to have changed as much in the translation to saxophone, though it would be great to hear the flute version some time.  The other transcription is Marcel Tournier’s (1879-1951) work originally for voice and harp.  This penultimate track, Le Lettre du Jardinier (1912)  is based on poetry by Henry Bataille (1872-1922).  Its theme connects a bit with the garden theme that begins with a brief work by Christine Delphine Hedden.

A great number of the pieces here have been composed over the last four years.  Most of these are single-movement works.  Natalie Moller’s (b. 1990) starshine and moonfall (2014) uses an undulating harp line under a lyrical sax idea that grows in intensity until it shifts into the arpeggios while the harp plays its own version of the expanded material.  It is a rather fascinating little work.  Four additional works are grouped together exploring unique themes and approaches to emphasize the potential of this combination.  Amhran na Casca (2014) has biblical connections to the death and resurrection of Christ in Luke 20 and Mary’s discovery there in Christine Delphine Hedden’s (b. 1990) brief piece creating some excellent dramatic flourishes from the harp.  Her Kitchen Dance (2015) uses electronics and bowls in an improvisatory way to create interactions between the players and sounds for an ethereal finale to the album.  An interesting toccata of sorts with blends of Funk-Indian music appears in Stephen Rush’s (b. 1958) Whirlwind (2015).  The most recent work on the album is Still Here (2017), Angelica Negron’s (b. 1981) musical exploration of abusive relationships and trauma.  Small motivic ideas are looped and repeated in often incessant patterns against more reflective lines.  This darker work exploring feelings and boundaries is followed by the much more avant-garde  …nice box! “Oh So Square” (2014) by Jasper Sussman (b. 1989) with unusual sounds and fluctuations attached to both instrumental sounds which ends in a vicious saxophone scream.

Patrick O’Malley’s (b. 1989) Thaumaturgy (2015) is one of two other recent multi-movement works.  The well-balanced three movements each present different “spells” reflecting the magical implications of the title.  The piece has a few more intriguing explorations of each instrument using special effects to add intriguing sounds to the texture (most striking in the opening “Cast and Bend”).  The exploration of sound straddles a sense of traditional and contemporary music.  The other multi-movement work here is Yusef A. Lateef’s (1920-2013) Romance for Soprano Saxophone (or oboe d’amore) and Harp (1991).  It opens with a rather beautiful reflective movement, “With Love” and then explores more upbeat emotions in “Cheerfully”.  There are moments here where one can hear how Lateef was shaping lines in ways that would work for either instrument.  The piece is an opportunity for exploring long, drawn-out phrases requiring great breath control.  It is an overall gentle piece with an almost ancient modal feel in its harmonies.

The album features a lot of fascinating music for this combination that explores the capabilities of this duo and celebrates this important musical partnership of the Admiral Duo itself.  The saxophone tends to shine a bit more here, but the harp has plenty of opportunity to stand out as well which allows us to hear the excellent musicianship of both players.  The performances here often seem so effortless that they invite the listener into these various musical explorations.  The dramatic and narrative possibilities of the pieces also is laid out well here.  Most of the pieces here are tonal with angular writing often showing more contemporary approaches to composition.  It is an overall impressive album with a wealth of fascinating new work to discover.  The pieces are sequenced well to balance those of differing lengths making for an engaging program.

EarRelevant Reviews debut Admiral Launch CD

EarRelevant Reviews debut Admiral Launch CD

…a sonic experience that is as delectable as it is original….

Sax and harp duo releases debut album on Albany

Sax and harp duo releases debut album on Albany

Saxophonist Jonathan Hulting-Cohen and harpist Jennifer R. Ellis release their debut recording December 1.

The Daily Gazette reviews Admiral Launch Duo

The Daily Gazette reviews Admiral Launch Duo

Alexander Quartet brings an intimate simplicity to cornerstone rep.