Classical home listening: Jess Gillam and John Harle on sax

Gillam strikes gold with works by Björk, Thom Yorke et al; her illustrious mentor revisits his epic career; and a miniature children’s opera

• The young star saxophonist Jess Gillam has raced straight to No 1 in the classical artist charts with her second album, Time (Decca), with Aurora Orchestra and conductor Nicholas Collon. It has collaboration at its heart: between composers who have written or arranged for her, between the shape-changing ensemble of musicians on various tracks, between listeners, carrying us through a musical span from dawn to dusk. Thoughtfully constructed and stylistically wide-ranging, the album opens with Meredith Monk’s miniature, poignant Early Morning Melody, followed by Dappled Light, a sonorous, rippling new work by Luke Howard. Other composers featured range from Thom Yorke, Will Gregory and Björk to Anna Meredith and Joby Talbot. The centrepiece is Michael Nyman’s expansive Where the Bee Dances, which references his score for Peter Greenaway’s film Prospero’s Books. Gillam, characterful and technically in command, is at her expressive best in Philip Glass’s short solo, Melody for Saxophone No 10. Finally Brian Eno’s Emerald and Stone makes a shadowy, dreamy ending.

• Gillam’s teacher and mentor, as well as producer of her first album (and dedicatee of Nyman’s Where the Bee Dances), is the world-class saxophonist John Harle. During lockdown, he went back through all his live and studio recordings from the past four decades – running into hundreds of tracks – and compiled an epic 20-CD box set: The John Harle Collection (Sospiro Records). Much of the material had never been released before now, and spans his entire, eclectic career, from film to jazz to classical to avant garde, and includes several of his own compositions. It’s a phenomenal overview of music – from Berio and Birtwistle to Elvis Costello and Goldfrapp plus countless more – heard through the free imagination of this virtuosic saxophone player. The set, also available as individual titles and online, is sold in aid of Help Musicians’ Coronavirus Financial Hardship Fund.

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