A few weeks ago the Rodriguez and Keepe duo gave a concert which included three of my pieces. They gave the first performance in a sax and piano version of In Arcadia, and they also played Alba, which Mike has performed a number of times before. And alongside these works Mike gave the premiere of Three Cut-Outs for solo sax.
I’ve known Mike for a few years now, and he’s been playing my music both as a soloist as well as with the Presidio Saxophone Quartet – I wrote the Three Cuts Outs at Mike’s request, early in 2012.
These pieces take their titles from the late artworks of Matisse, which were produced by the scissor-cutting of paper that had been painted with gouache: Matisse referred to them as “painting with scissors”. For me, their appeal comes from the clarity of the images, the way the colours interact and harmonise, and the exciting control of line. All of these things are very suggestive from a musical point of view, especially as solo instrument pieces.
I had originally intended that the pieces would written at an advanced student level, but in the end they turned out to be rather tricky to master, especially at the tempi I’d imagined!
The first piece, Two Dancers, tries to capture the vigorous leap and movement of the figures, the angular exuberance. To achieve this the saxophone starts with an opening gesture that rises through the instrument’s register before releasing it into a flurry of daring high pitched activity. The articulation of each fragment of this melody, whilst remaining airborne, is one key element of the music; the other being sections of spiky and off-beat rhythms.
The next piece is Icarus, which is one of the iconic images from the collection Jazz. For this I took a programmatic view of the Icarus story. The saxophone starts with a mysterious low melody that gradually ascends until it breaks out into a series of increasingly wild flourishes, before finally falling to earth again.
The final piece, The Parakeet and the Mermaid, draws on the energy and vibrant colour of the Cut-Out. This is the most cheerful and melodic of the pieces – with its energetic rhythms bouncing off from the lively pulses of colour and shape that threaten to burst out from the rectangular confines of the Matisse.