Rituals is a unique project by Jacob Ridderberg, who has taken a page out of Steve Reich’s book of minimalism in order to highlight qualities of the saxophone otherwise easy to miss. One of the most interesting is an almost percussive power to mark rhythm through sheer volume, a presence that the instrument almost always eludes in other contexts. Behind such surprising mutations is not only the referent of West African music so beloved to Reich’s brand, but also the fact that the entire album was composed for arrangements of multiple, layered saxophones, played by Maria Dybbroe. Every piece contains from 6 to 50 saxophone tracks, sometimes as blasts of drones, sometimes as low-intensity, quiet generators of harmony.
Ridderberg’s craft skillfully draws different roles for various masses of saxophones, creating dense harmonies pinpointed by singular voices, or rhythmically playing them like piano keys to create a polyphonic architecture. In the same way that other experimental saxophone artists like Colin Stetson make the classically brassy, extended tones of the instrument seem alien, Ridderberg utilizes its signature sound in contrasting situations that make it as new. The low-mass drones in “Canon”, for example, softly tread on as another, denser mass works like percussion, directly striking tension into the track; our ears now mauled, we can distinguish the classic saxophone sound hiding amidst the blaring, yet tranquil drones.
You might be thinking, by now of other experiments with masses of instruments such as Rhys Chatham’s A Crimson Grail. Rituals is, however, fundamentally different from ACG, beginning with the experiential basis upon which the latter was created. The earlier is more academic, abstract inasmuch as there is only one player whose voice is multiplied dozens of times. In a sense, Rituals is also an exercise in volumes and sound density, but it is marked by deft studio editing and an interest in deconstructing, piece by piece, what a saxophone can do. The more Romantic aspects of ACG as divine communion with a major force unseen do have a parallel in Rituals’ suggested function as holy performance, but it always comes back to the rationalized attention to detail and the diversity at the heart of its masses’ interactions. It is, in short, closer to a baroque form of religiosity, luring us into labyrinths of counterpoint and wondrous technique: experience becomes somewhat secondary to the heights we can reach with the use of reason.
In the end, Rituals is a powerfully unique work, as demanding to listen as it is rewarding, finding in the saxophone mass a refreshing variety of harmonies and sounds, utilizing minimalism to lay out each composition’s process in detail. (David Murrieta Flores)