Dave Camwell – Timescape


Dave Camwell, saxophone
Ron Albrecht, piano; Jillian Camwell, oboe and Cor Anglais; Christy Eckerty, piano; Kim Helton, flute; Stephen Page, saxophone; Mary Pshonik, cello; James Romain, saxophone

Timescape is one of two recent releases on the Teal Creek label by saxophonist Dave Camwell, not to be confused with the album of the same name by the David Rees-Williams Trio. Like the pianist’s earlier CD, the concept is to present a range of music from across the centuries, in this case from the Baroque to the present day. Programmed in chronological order, the featured works span 270 years from Bach in 1738 to Peterson in 2009, via Paganini, Poulenc, Steve Reich and others.

This is a great programme of music, with many personal favourites including in particular the Bach Double Concerto and Poulenc Trio for Oboe, Bassoon and Piano. The arrangements, which are mainly by Dave Camwell himself, are for interesting and unusual combinations of instruments, featuring a number of different performers. This is a most effective demonstration of how the saxophone interacts and blends with other instruments in unconventional pairings or groups.

While there is a variety of genres represented here, there are many similarities and links between the different styles of the featured pieces. These include rhythmic features, the use of repetition, a three movement fast – slow – fast structure, melody, modal tonality, range of colours and instrumental blends, moods and a feeling of exuberance and playfulness.

The Bach Double Concerto in D minor, originally for oboe and violin and here arranged by Dave Camwell, sees the saxophonist joined by Jillian Camwell on oboe to launch the CD in style with a high feelgood factor. When I initially saw this item on the track list, and having played the piece on soprano saxophone, I expected that the saxophone would be assuming the oboe role, so it was a refreshing surprise to find it on the violin line. The combination of soprano saxophone and oboe is effective, and more evenly balanced in tone than you might expect, and certainly closer to each other in sound world than the original pairing of oboe and violin.

This is followed by saxophonist Raaf Hekkema’s virtuoso arrangement of the famous Paganini Caprice (1802), here further adapted by Dave Camwell, which sees the versatile performer leaping across all registers of the alto saxophone in an assured performance only slightly marred by rather intrusive key clicks.

Moving forward, the first movement of the familiar Poulenc Trio for Oboe, Bassoon and Piano of 1926, again arranged by Camwell substituting tenor saxophone for the bassoon, is joyful, quirky, trademark Poulenc that stays true to the original work in mood and feel. The second movement features a real conversation between a wistful saxophone and poignant oboe, running the gamut of emotions from dramatic, inner turmoil to fond reminiscence. The third is an exuberant and life affirming rondo, with some phrases reminiscent of playground games from childhood, before signing off with a flourish.

New York Counterpoint by Steve Reich in this arrangement by Sara Sipes takes us into the late 20th century to a work originally scored for live clarinet and 11 pre-recorded layers of clarinet and bass clarinet. It is structured as a three movement work segueing seamlessly from one movement to the next as it gradually builds and reduces. The work translates well to saxophones, with repeating short tones in sweeping phrases phasing in and out, and rhythmic repeating phrases in fragmented layers, sometimes underscored by a dotted line from the baritone.

We move further towards the present day with and another substantial three movement work, Michael Touchi’s Baroque influenced Tango Barocco, originally composed as a double concerto in 2001 and reinvented here as a trio with a piano reduction of the orchestral score. The first movement has a cadenza-like, quasi improvisatory feel, with fast fingered virtuosity from the instrumentalists in a Turkish flavoured tango. The second sees the saxophone eloquent in an expressive melody with an epic tune reminiscent of film music, and duetting with Cor Anglais as the two instruments weave in and around each other over Baroque chords. The final movement reveals both its Baroque DNA and minimalist influences in its agile repeating figures – a reference to a Bach two part invention brought forward into the 21st century by the tango rhythm and modal tonality.

Farfalle Cotte by Marc Mellits, an original composition for two soprano saxophones from 2006, also features minimalist repeating figures reminiscent of, and perhaps influenced by, the Reich. Unless there is another meaning, the title refers to cooked pasta, and indeed listening to the music you could well imagine a pan of boiling butterfly shaped pasta!

Finally, the three movement Russell Petersen Trio No. 1 for Flute, Alto Saxophone and Piano unites all the earlier components in a powerful closer. The first movement is quite beautiful, with a lovely classical alto saxophone tone and full rounded flute. Starting with slow, deliberate, simple legato phrases and long held notes like a call from the past, the music becomes faster and increasingly insistent, conveying some turmoil. The second sees a haunting, evocative Ney-like flute answered by the saxophone as though in some ancient ritual, followed by a faster modal section with runs and flourishes. The trio concludes with a jazz infused moto perpetuo, bringing the CD to a close with a similar feelgood factor to the Bach at the start. There are sharp retorts, as though in a good natured argument, then the saxophone tumbling head over heels like a whirling dervish, leading to a triumphant end on a high note.

As for the CD as a whole, I found the new instrumentation a delightful surprise that brought a fresh identity to familiar and favourite material. The thoughtful programming was highly effective in identifying common themes and uniting the material across the years. The playing is excellent throughout, with perfect balance and great interplay between the performers. I would thoroughly recommend this recording to anyone with an interest in Baroque, 20th century, minimalist and/or contemporary music as well as saxophone enthusiasts on the lookout for new sounds and material.

Alison Owen-Morley


3 thoughts on “Dave Camwell – Timescape

  1. Pingback: Sounds across the Centuries | studioflamingo

  2. Hi Alison,
    This CD sounds wonderful – have to admit that I’m not familiar with most of the names, but I see Raaf Hekkema is involved – as a staunch supporter of Calefax, that was enough – its on my shopping list.
    Which instruments have you been learning? If you could bottle your boundless energy I’d buy one.
    Best wishes
    Sue 🙂

    • Hi Sue,
      Many thanks for your lovely message. I’m a big fan of Calefax too, and even though RH is only involved as an arranger I’m sure you’ll enjoy Timescape very much.
      I was originally teaching flute, which was my first instrument back in the day, and then had to teach myself clarinet in a hurry in order to teach that too! More recently I’ve also been playing a bit of trumpet and there’s also an oboe on the back burner! Still play mainly baritone and tenor saxophones though. I don’t really have enough energy – just good at pretending!
      All best, Alison

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