Keep the Balance on a Back Curve

for alto saxophone


commissioned by Katherine Weintraub // premiered July 8, 2018; Zagreb, Croatia

instrumentation: solo alto saxophone


Program Notes

Keep the Balance on the Back Curve is an homage to the golden (or perhaps neon) age of saxophone solos in popular music: the late 70s and early 80s. Songs like Wham’s Careless Whisper and Gerry Rafferty’s Baker Street are, of course, the most popular representations of the heavily effected, wailing sound that so perfectly reflects the excess of the decade. The specific inspiration for this piece, though, is an undeservedly obscure track from the Walker Brothers, a popular 1960s outfit led by Scott Walker (not the former governor). Their final album, Nite Flights (1978), is the beginning of Scott Walker’s turn toward experimental music in the latter part of his career, and his first four songs on the album are a tour-de-force of ambitious and challenging songwriting, with Walker embracing the dissonant clusters of modernist orchestral writing and cryptic, often morbid lyrics. Keep the Balance on the Back Curve is a lyrical fragment from the song Fat Mama Kick, which features an absolutely wild saxophone solo by Alan Skidmore in which he seems to disregard the meter, harmony, and tempo of the song to create a wailing, impassioned scream. I wanted to capture this unbridled and precarious energy by employing Coltranesque sheets of sound with a constantly shifting sense of tempo and dynamic, asking the saxophonist to keep her balance, so to speak, amidst a musical high-wire act of microtones, percussive sounds, and lightning-fast arpeggios. Keep the Balance on the Back Curve was commissioned and premiered by Katherine Weintraub. 

Sunfighters locked in right angle rooms 

Watch their lovers sleep face down in the yellow light

Keep the balance on a back curve 

‘Till the war with the night is over

Fat Mama Kick

Scott Walker