"Demetrius Spaneas is a champion of contemporary music, performing both classical and jazz woodwinds. He is based in the USA and currently has two solo recordings - 'When Wind comes to sparse Bamboo', also from Capstone Records dates from August 2003. This is therefore his second CD and contains new electro-acoustic works for solo saxophone and bass clarinet by contemporary American composers. Spaneas also has a great interest in music from the Balkans and Far East.
The first work on the disc is Shaun Naidoo's 'Waking in the Dirt' for bass clarinet and electronics. Naidoo was born in South Africa in 1962 and moved to Los Angeles in 1990, where he has compsed many electro-acoustic works. 'Waking in the Dirt' is in two parts: 'Waking in the Dirt' and 'Turning in the Soil'. Both titles were inspired by photos of exhumed bodies from massed graves around Serbia and Tuzsla in Bosnia. All very gloomy, and indeed the music is, with the unique timbre of the bass clarinet perfectly reflecting the sombre mood. The first half 'Waking in the Dirt' features tightly focused improvisations with tape sounds based on bass clarinet samples. The effect is very spooky and definitely not easy listening. The whole piece is deeply disturbing. There is some impressive bass clarinet playing from Spaneas showing his complete mastery of a very difficult and challenging instrument. The second half 'Turning in the Soil' features much more 'standard' bass clarinet playing with strictly notated music and free interjections from the soloist.
The other work by Shaun Naidoo on this disc is also a very emotive piece. 'Blood on the Water' was written for Spaneas in 2004 and written for alto saxophone and electronics. The electronic part uses manipulated saxophone sounds along with occasional voice effects. The performer has to use precise notation combined with improvisations. The five movements are:- 'Nothing from the Sun' - Alto sax interjections which start off in a jazz idiom and leads to a long slow improvisatory passage. 'Hidden Warning' - Here Spaneas demonstrates fine technical mastery including special effects such as growls. 'The Kindness of Women' - At last something soothing with gentle gradually descending scales followed by a calm melody on the saxophone. This is very lovely and sensitive playing. 'Killer Toys' - This demonstrates fast and technical playing from Spaneas but children be warned - you will not want to play with these toys! 'Blood on the Pattern' - Again this is very disturbing. Imagine spreading waves of blood getting worse that eventually cause severe distress. However there is a calming effect at the end.
These Naidoo works are really only for contemporary and electro-acoustic specialists. They are certainly not easy listening and are very disturbing.
Spaneas uses his two Interludes as bridging works. Both are written for solo alto saxophone. 'Interlude 1 - Intension' - A clever title as tense it certainly is. It is based on a classical rondo but contrasts in techniques rather than in melodies. Indeed I found it hard to detect any melody at all. However Spaneas's technique is truly impressive. He makes the saxophone sound as though it has been electronically enhanced and I'm sure that saxophonists, like myself, would love to know how he obtains some of the special effects. 'Interlude 2 - Reflection' - A good title as the piece reflects the thanksgiving hymn 'We Gather Together'. Spaneas uses the full harmonic spectrum of the saxophone but to me it is very difficult to detect the melody line.
My favourite pieces on the CD have to be the 'Tagore Songs' by Jane Brockman. These were written originally for clarinet but work brilliantly on the soprano saxophone for which they adapted here. The work is influenced by Indian music and sounds very improvisatory despite being fully notated. Each movement is named after a quotation by the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941). 1. A lurid glow waxes and wanes on the horizon .... what was sorrow has now become peace. This movement is more melodious than other works on the disc. It is very atmospheric with stunning soprano saxophone playing. The tuning is impeccable. Very peaceful and really capturing the spirit of India and its vocal tradition. 2. Reflected ...... from a far-off world .... and vanished! 3. Where roads are made, I lose my way. This final song is much faster and technical than the other two.
The other work on the CD is 'Blood Memory' by Sean Heim for bass clarinet and electric sruti box. A sruti box distorts the voice to make it sound as though it is producing overtones equivalent to the amazing harmonics Spaneas produces on the bass clarinet. The piece is dedicated to the courage and strength of Truganini, one of the last Tasmanian aborigines. It is well suited for the bass clarinet, which in its lowest register sounds remarkably like a didgeridoo.
This is not an easy disc to listen to at all. However it is a clever disc and really shows off the formidable techniques of Spaneas. The only piece I could possibly relax to is the Brockman Tagore songs. Otherwise the other pieces are deeply disturbing. At times I had to turn the music down so as not to disturb the neighbours. This is definitely a CD for contemporary music specialists only."
—Lynda Baker, MusicWeb International