LEBLANC-BLISS-CLARINETComing with a distinctive modernistic preformed bell, there are no metal joints to the body of this clarinet. But there is a fitted rubber seal on the thumb rest so you don’t have to go out and buy one. The standard keywork is nicely finished and well sprung and feels very solid with a positive action and there’s a nice light action through the throat register and both the intonation and articulation are excellent. Sonically, the dynamic range of this instrument is nothing less than remarkable, particularly in the upper register. Low notes are also very good allowing the player to perform with complete confidence. The instrument has a warm tone and would be equally at home in either a jazz group or chamber orchestra. Packed into what is fast becoming the musician’s standard instrument case, now a rucksack, with three zippered compartments, one of which has a heavy duty key clasp and phone pocket, while the main compartment has the usual preformed velvetine lined base and top for the instrument parts. There is also a top grab handle and a basic lightly padded back harness. This instrument could well become a benchmark for the future.

For more go to www.vincentbach-ltd.co.uk

CANNONBALL-RAVEN-ALTO-SAXThis handsome alto comes from Cannonball’s Big Bell Stone Series and the black lacquering really is the business. The Raven has a solid feel and is a well built saxophone with very ergonomic keywork – everything is pretty much where you’d want it. Uniquely it comes supplied with two crooks. One is a Fat Neck underslung very much in the Conn mould while the other is a more standard Selmerstyle affair. Our sample had a very positive and free key action – especially at the bottom end, with twin arms to the lower keys and standard leather pads. Sadly my big hands didn’t sit over the palm keys as I would have wanted, but the key positions would have undoubtedly been perfect for most people. Both the intonation and articulation were spot on. From the first note it was clear that the Raven is a saxophone that’s just asking to be played, it feels as though its Big Bell has been matched to a large bore. This instrument has a very centred and a very wide range of sounds. You can play softly and it will produce a smooth, sensual sound – or you can blow the house down and it will respond with volume, depth and a case full of character. I preferred the Fat Neck crook, as it seemed to give me an effortless top range. It also offered more power and less edge to the sound. Coming in the now standard plush-lined, preformed, zippered nylon denier case, the Raven gets my seal of approval and is without doubt the most satisfying and sublime saxophone that has passed through this office in a very long time.

For more go to www.windcraft.co.uk

JOHN-PACKER-SAXOPHONES-MODELS-042A--045SThere are a myriad models of saxophones available at the budget end of today’s market and launching a new instrument, or in this case, series of instruments is a risky road to run unless you’ve gone overtime on the R&D. John Packer’s have clearly “done their stuff” and produced a series of saxophones from which we chose to test the 042A Antique finish tenor and the 045S Silver plated alto. Both instruments were fitted with our own hard rubber Otto Link 6 mouthpieces coupled with Rico Jazz Select 3 reeds. The 045S Alto comes with a derivative of the Conn underslung crook with the octave bar being wider than normal and therefore less restrictive to the player. Touch pieces are set with abalone and the etched detailing to the body is thankfully under, rather than overstated. We found the action light and very responsive with intonation that was spot on and an octave mechanism that worked a treat. However, the ‘D’ palm key felt slightly high and the top table Bb was a bit of a stretch, but I’m sure that this is something that the individual player would in time get used to. The 045S produced a consistent sound with good dynamics, but although there is a full and mellow tone, we felt that it lacked that essential sonic ‘edge’. However, had we had a Yamaha mouthpiece with a 2 reed, we reckon that we might have been able to coax out a little more bite.

The 042A tenor is a particularly easy blower, with a rich, warm, mellow tone, plenty of “edge” and a truly extraordinary dynamic range for an instrument in this price bracket. Although the action is nice and light and the palm keys are well positioned, we found that the ‘D’ key was set slightly lower than on our Selmer model and as such presented an odd fingering position.

Overall there is much to recommend these horns and it is not surprising that they are popular with pit musicians in the West End theatres. After all, they produce a very rounded, generic sax sound and crucially for jobbing musicians come shipped with a semi-hard, preformed, shaped denier covered sax case with a 3/4 zip, zippered front pocket, grab handle, detachable shoulder strap and the inevitable, retractable back harness. For more go to www.johnpacker.co.uk

JUPITER-JAS-969GL-ALTO-SAXOPHONEWell known for producing brass and woodwind instruments for the schools and student market, Jupiter’s recent entry into the semi-pro and pro market has raised a few eyebrows and no small amount of interest. Code-named the 900 series, we sampled the alto in gold lacquer. It’s a striking-looking horn with the sort of finish and build quality that you might expect from a company that has had such a long standing association with this section of the market. The JAS 969 “feels” very similar to a Yamaha and we found the configurations of the harmonics similar to that of a Yamaha, as is the front “f” key. It’s a very responsive horn and has a very positive action, particularly in the bottom register. The keywork is good with excellent intonation and articulation and I really liked the octave key action. Soundwise the JAS 969 has an edgy and, in places, almost raw tone and there is very little depth and seemingly no real character. I couldn’t find any true power in the upper register even though I did try and I felt I was looking for something that really wasn’t there and eventually concluded that for all its excellent build qualities, this is a bulk standard instrument that just does not have that extra je ne sais quoi . The JAS 969 comes in it’s very own custom made, zippered semi-hard shell case with a nylon denier cover, leather handles to the side and end, and “D” rings for a non-slip shoulder strap. There is a very useful large expandable pocket to the lower front face that holds another smaller pocket and a multi-pen pouch however, the magnetic stud contact on the leatherette flap proved to be an ineffective seal. To the back of the case is an adjustable harness and a pouch that includes a nylon rain cover which works.

For more go to www.korg.co.uk

HOWARTHS-CHILTERN-BLACK-LACQUER-ALTO-SAXOPHONEHowarth's of London have recently decided to source their own range of saxophones from Taiwan and if our sample from the first batch is anything to go by, they seem to have made all the right moves. The Chiltern is an extremely elegant alto horn, with pearloid buttons to the keys and plenty of decorative engraving that even runs on to the lip of the bell. The overall balance is excellent and the black lacquer on our sample was flawless. With very similar keywork to a Selmer series 2 and a really positive action together with double action bars on the bottom C, it’s a really comfortable player, particularly in the lower register.

Further up the stack, I liked the positioning of the palm keys and the table is super smooth and particularly easy to manipulate. With the house Rousseau mouthpiece fitted with a 2 1/2 Vandoren reed, the Chiltern produces a good, solid, edgy sound, with a big, powerful bottom end. Articulation and separation is excellent and the harmonics pop out effortlessly. There is a good dynamic range with exceptional clarity in the top register and when played softly, this instrument produces a beautiful sweet and smooth tone. The Chiltern would fit easily into most musical situations, be it a big band, small combo or a full classical orchestra. It ships in a snazzy, zippered hard shell, moulded, plush lined case with ‘D’ rings for a shoulder strap and a solid nylon grab handle. Highly recommended.

For more go to www.howarth.uk.com

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