Solo piano records are a dime a dozen, albums made entirely of cello are hardly rare, and even drum-only sets have featured on our pages. Experts of their chosen voice like to stretch it beyond convention and even recognition. Learning that Lines of Sight is composed predominantly of saxophone may come as a surprise for that reason. But it’s not that most of the layers don’t sound like a sax when you actually listen closely; it’s that the atmosphere and compositional techniques render such musings an irrelevance – the sheer drama and grandeur coursing through these six pieces simply ensnare all attention.
Australian-born, UK-based jazz saxophonist Daniel Thorne last appeared on our pages as part of the Erased Tapes compilation 1+1=X, but more prominently before that as director of Immix Ensemble, an avant local collective whose EP ‘slips between the cracks of style and genre’. What was once an ethos is now a trajectory, Thorne having merely jettisoned extraneous instruments and now propelling himself skyward. But from a mere handful of saxes does he conjure such range! Like several tracks on the record, its opener “From Inside, Looking Out” immediately assaults with a layered barrage. Multiple voices warble and trill over each other like a flock of agitated birds, unifying only to take breath before ploughing on, cacophonous and stretching the simple melody to breaking point. The part of any one instrument is simple, but the whole is complex to the point of unintelligible ~ as though each voice is looping a single word in a phrase whose meaning is clouded by the incessant repetition. The passage is as engaging as it is confounding ~ and this technique is one repeated across a record whose scope is truly cosmic.
For Lines of Sight is zoomed out, from bird’s eye to heaven’s eye. It is the shapes and patterns that materialise when you gain enough perspective, the merging of human- with natural-made structures, the blurring of the artificial with the natural. It’s a broad conceit that both inspired and is analogous to the writing, as the composer sought to meld the synthetic with the organic. Saxes (organic) may dominate the canvass, but many lines are processed to deliver this fusion of those states. The synthetic is provided by bass synth, which fills in the white spaces to give dynamic range and textural counterpoint. The bludgeoning start of “From the Heavens” is formed of a synth melody of such majesty it may be tracing the movement of planets, while arpeggios portray coruscating bodies in the background. The slow melody in time stumbles, speeding up then slowing down, before the piece collapses into relative calm. In the closing passage of “Pyriscene”, while the woodwind section gently babbles over itself again, bass notes swell and recede from such depths that a gulf of space is conveyed, and the scope is aggrandized from initial levity.
Also serving that pursuit of a perfectly blended state, Thorne remarks that several passages were highly calculated, stemming from ratios and processes, while others evolved more organically. The latter seems to prevail in the record’s closing two pieces. The withering, languid “Threnody for a Burning Building” precedes the peaceful “Fear of Floating”, whose solo sax line underscores the emptiness around it by trilling notes until they fade to brass clicks. It sounds guided yet improvised, and ultimately seems to conquer its fear to embrace the vastness above us ~ with all the terrifying liberation that implies.
A singular and glorious triumph. (Chris Redfearn-Murray)