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THE TIPTONS SAXOPHONE QUARTET & DRUMS are an internationally renowned all-female saxophone quartet with drums, celebrating over 30 years as a band. Amy Denio (alto sax, clarinet, voice) is joined by co-leader Jessica Lurie (soprano/alto/tenor sax, voice), Sue Orfield (tenor sax, voice), Tina Richerson (baritone sax, voice) and Robert Kainar (drums, percussion) from Salzburg, Austria. The Tiptons’ material ranges from micro-Big Band to Gospel, Bluegrass to Balkan, whimsical Chamber Jazz, and nocturnal Funk to Free Jazz Improvisation using saxophones, clarinet, their voices, drums, and inventive percussion to create a genre-busting ‘world soul’ sound. The band takes its name in honor of Billy Tipton, a female-born saxophonist who lived their life as a man in the 20th century to realize their dreams as a professional musician.
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For over three decades, THE TIPTONS SAXOPHONE QUARTET & DRUMS have been making music to galvanize the senses and take listeners through unforgettable soundscapes. But in that time, they’ve been around the block enough to know to appreciate the unexpected ways in which the process of making good music can sometimes unfold. So rather than bemoaning what is not perfect in a perfect world, they’ve learned as improvisers how to work with limited resources or unforeseen challenges.
That is the spirit behind the band’s new single “Wabi Sabi” (out Feb 19, 2021) inspired by and named after the Japanese philosophy that translates roughly as “find beauty and take pleasure in the imperfect”. The track promises a forthcoming collection of new music to illustrate the sometimes unexpected beauty in our chaotic world.
The Tiptons’ 14th album Wabi Sabi (to be released April 2, 2021 on Sowiesound Records) features eleven new compositions for saxophone, voice, and drums that explore styles ranging from modern emanations of traditional African American field hollers to the hum of tires on the Autobahn, tricks for the mind, a yodeling deconstruction, popping funk for December’s doldrums, and upbeat grooves for bad people with good intentions.
With this latest release, the internationally renowned all-female saxophone quartet with drums is celebrating over 30 years as a band. Founding members/co-leaders Amy Denio (alto sax, clarinet, voice) and Jessica Lurie (soprano/alto/tenor sax, voice), are joined by Sue Orfield (tenor sax, voice), Tina Richerson (baritone sax, voice), and Robert Kainar of Salzburg, Austria on drums and percussion.
As a testament to the human willpower to survive obstacles when on a determined creative path, the band takes its name in honor of trailblazing transgender saxophone icon Billy Tipton. Born female and named ‘Dorothy Lucille’, Billy took on their brother’s name, choosing to live their life as a man in order to embrace their chosen identity and pursue a career in music as an instrumentalist in a heavily male-dominated field.
The all-women sax quartet had originally been going by the moniker Phlegm Fatale until they learned about the death of the tenacious musician and booking agent in 1989. The band asked Tipton’s family for permission to use their name, and with the family’s blessing, re-named their sax quartet in honor of the artist. At first, calling themselves the Billy Tipton Memorial Saxophone Quartet, the group later expanded their repertoire and eventually shortened their name to ‘The Tiptons Sax Quartet’.”
“We started as an all women’s saxophone quartet back then because there really just weren’t any,” says Denio. “And as saxophone players, we loved the idea of getting more play-time because in typical bands sax players often have to wait around for very restrained participation.
As the group developed, we began to experiment more with working out our own arrangements, and that in turn evolved into us writing our own compositions.”
Those out-of-the-box origins and their comfort with evolving and reinventing themselves over time are both indicative of elements that really bring charm to the band: that they are a truly diverse group of individuals, composers, and musicians. The individual members of the band are all interested in disparate traditions of world music, have different tastes, and very different styles of playing, making what they do together that much richer. Another unusual aspect of the group is their incorporation of the human voice into the band. Most saxophone quartets don’t sing, but the Tiptons love singing. “All sax all the time can get tedious,” says Denio. “And I think that’s why we added drums later too, adding a groove to inspire different colors and add dynamic. We’re always interested in expanding our sphere.”
This unique admixture of influences and dynamics has resulted in an expansive catalog of Tiptons material, ranging from micro-Big Band to Gospel, Bluegrass to Balkan, whimsical Chamber Jazz, and nocturnal Funk to Free Jazz Improvisation. Using saxophones, clarinet, their own voices, drums, and inventive percussion, the band creates a genre-busting ‘world soul’ sound. That sound achieves new creative heights on Wabi Sabi.
“December’s Dance,” a Bebop number composed and arranged by Tipton’s baritone player Tina Richerson, shows off a compelling funk groove layered with acrobatic horn lines, propelling forward into reflection, soloist expression, and a surprise ending. The track goes a long way in defining the Tiptons as a powerful groove band, able to play complex music with difficult melodies, yet making it fun and danceable rather than something that has the feel of an intellectual exercise.
Literally translated as ‘the large urinator, “El Gran Orinador” is written and arranged by Amy Denio as a Latin-tinged composition inspired by Pablo Neruda’s poem about a crazy rainstorm. Somewhere between a Mosambique or possibly a Songo, the song can only be described as truly Tiptonesque! In a rare opportunity to improvise on a studio recording, the track features a free section in the middle where the band improvises the sound and fury of a storm using unusual saxophone techniques such as breathing through to make wind sounds and moving fingers on keys without playing to emulate the sound of raindrops.
“Working Song,” composed and arranged by Sue Orfield is inspired by traditional field hollers, a type of work song created by African-American slaves working on cotton plantations, not meant to keep a strict rhythm with the work, but to express the feelings of the workers.
“Torquing of the Spheres,” a composition by Jessica Lurie, is based on the safe yet Kerouacian maneuverings of the band’s Austrian driver Robert. The song describes a point in the middle of a European tour when everyone was exhausted, zoning out and napping in the car. And all of a sudden, the band was awakened to the sounds of Robert intermittently speeding up, slowing down, moving off and onto the rumble strip on the side of the highway. He was amazingly playing the Autobahn like an instrument to the Tiptons’ inspired awe.
“For us, Wabi Sabi is the very richest array of compositions that we’ve done thus far,” notes Denio. “The compositions are super-refined, showing that all of us have really matured as composers. And technically as players were, we’re really out shining what we’ve done in the past. I like to say it’s a trifecta: it’s great compositions, really, really strong playing …and this all came together in a really inspiring environment.”
Thanks to a successful crowd-funding campaign, the Tiptons Sax Quartet met in Seattle in January 2020 to rehearse, perform and record the 11 brand new songs just ahead of the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic that would soon put a death grip on much of the music industry. The band only had a couple of days to rehearse before a trial by fire, doing several live radio broadcasts and performing concerts with the new material before heading to Seattle’s Studio LITHO, owned by Stone Gossard of Pearl Jam, to work with the Tipton’s favorite recording and mixing engineer Floyd Reitsma.
Meanwhile, one by one, the band members came down with the worst case of the flu imaginable right in the midst of recording, often having to lie down in between takes. Yet, the band persevered and somehow managed to record everything in three days before sending the mix off to be mastered by Rachel Field at Resonant Mastering in Seattle.
“That’s how we roll and that’s the beauty of this group. We all bring our own unique contributions and ideas to the unknown; we improvise and songs tend to mutate and evolve through the experience. It’s always a super labor-intensive effort. But in the end, you get this vital, live feeling. It’s really is, basically, a live album with very few overdubs”
Press for Wabi Sabi
- NYC Jazz Record, March 2021 Wabi Sabi, The Tiptons Sax Quartet & Drums (s/r)
- NY Music Daily, 7/17/21, The Tiptons Sax Quartet Release the Funnest Jazz Album of the Year So Far
- WFIU’s Just You & Me, 3/1/21, airplay
- BangerSound, 3/3/21, Social Media Shout-out
- Last Day Deaf, 3/15/21, Beyond Boundaries, fifty
- Paradigms, 3/14/21, The Tiptons Sax Quartet – New Music “Wabi Sabi”
- Burl Veneer (Music), 3/17/21, Tiptons Sax Quartet & Drums – Wabi Sabi
- CBC Saturday Night Jazz, 3/20/21 airplay
- Indie Criollo, 4/2/21, 5 RECOMENDACIONES DIARIAS DEL UNDER MUNDIAL PARA EL OÍDO EXIGENTE #76
- Last Day Deaf, 4/4/21, Groove On, Take 44
- Iggy Magazine, 4/5/21, The Tiptons Sax Quartet & Drums: December’s Dance
- American Pancake, 4/6/21, The Tiptons Sax Quartet & Drums “December’s Dance”
- Midwest Book Review, 4/7/21, The Music CD Shelf
- WPRB The Scarlet Pumpernickel Show, 4/3/21, airplay
- Jazz Chill, 4/6/21, New Music Releases: Jimmy Reiter, The Tiptons Sax Quartet and Drums, Kutiman
- KMUW Night Train, 4/1/21, Night Train Top 40- March 2021
- Shepherd Express, 4/9/21, Wabi Sabi by Tiptons Saxophone Quartet & Drums
- Music Mecca, 4/16/21, Seattle Funk N’ Jazz Brass Band The Tiptons Sax Quartet Deliver On Soulful New Album ‘Wabi Sabi’
- Djolo, 4/16/21, Et pendant ce temps dans le reste du monde #160
- Dusted Magazine, 4/23/21, Dust Volume 7, Number 4
- Roots Music Report, 4/23/21, The Tiptons Sax Quartet and Drums find “Wabi Sabi”
- ekultura.hu, 5/10/21, Zenék a nagyvilágból – The Tiptons Sax Quartet & Drums: Wabi Sabi – világzenéről szubjektíven 275/1.
- Jazz Weekly, 6/10/21, The Tiptons Sax Quartet & Drums: Wabi Sabi