This black lacquer beauty has a build quality to take your breath away and comes in a solid, well padded, plush lined lightweight leatherette case with reinforced corners, together with top and side handles and an adjustable shoulder strap for added convenience. Coming with both curved and straight necks, it offers the player maximum flexibility in any given situation. The curved neck clearly gives a darker character to the tone, while the straight option produces a cleaner, more clinical tone. Finger positioning throughout is good, but we particularly liked the positioning of the palm keys, which facilitated a precision and ease of playing to this section of the instrument.

Our sample 875EX was in tune, with the notes popping out just fine, with excellent sub-tones in the lower register, although we did find the bottom table C – Bb a little hard to get, but this was probably down to the springing needing to be taken out a little. Intonation was excellent, as was the instrument’s harmonic capability. The 875EX is very smooth and easy to play and is clearly aimed at the professional and semi-professional market. With it’s slightly shrill tonal character and its apparent lack of ability to “move sound around”, it won’t be to every player’s taste. However, the 875EX would seem particularly well suited to ensemble situations, where tone matching through a range of instruments is paramount.

 

The Rosetti Series 7 range of instruments has long been regarded as exceptional value in the student/intermediate market, and the latest incarnation of one of the flagship models, the Eb alto confirms the Series 7 status. With the now ubiquitous high F sharp key, this new alto horn comes with an underslung crook. Clearly a deliberate move away from the standard format, this intriguing and unique design doesn’t try to replicate the old Conn favourite, but is a more solid piece of hardware that has no doubt been fashioned with student use in mind. Blowing freely and easily, this neat little Alto comes packed in a semi-hard case with a pre-formed composite interior and a back harness and a very useful cleaning brush.

This is the one you’ve all been waiting for – as played by our very own Courtney Pine. Selmer Paris have marked the 50th anniversary of the death of Bird, by adding a special edition alto to the ‘Reference’ collection. It features a unique acoustic tube that has a particular body/bow/bell assembly, paired up with an original neck design that not only offers greater flexibility and a more natural positioning through the different angle and bore, but that also sports the unique engraved Hummingbird. The leather keypads feature a plastic booster which contributes to the roundness of sound, which is further enhanced by the hand finished, hard rubber “super session” mouthpiece. This has been especially designed for jazz players, to give power and projection without those forceful, aggressive qualities. The mouthpiece also has a specific ‘Bird’ ligature, specially made by Ligaphone to optimise the acoustic qualities of the instrument. As if all this wasn’t enough to tempt every altoist on the planet, the horn comes in it’s very own compact and luxurious imitation leather case, that not only gives excellent protection, but also adds to the overall ‘style’. Classy or what!

If you are looking for something more from your sound palette, then there are clearly many different ways in which this can be achieved. Needless to say, one of the options is to try various ligatures, to effect different blowing characteristics and different tonal qualities. Those looking for a warmer tonal range should take a look at this genuine, handcrafted leather ligature from Vandoren. It’s a very free blowing unit, and comes with metal, hard leather and soft leather plates, and it can make a real difference to your sound. Understandably, the metal plate is more responsive than the two leather pieces, but our personal preference was for the hard leather plate that most closely matched the leather of the ligature and gave a more compact and focused sound.

The Leger range of clear synthetic reeds is now available in the U.K. Made in Canada, they are extremely popular across the pond because of their immediate playability and comparative longevity. There is no reason to moisture the reed before playing and it will warm up over a matter of minutes to hold its stability for at least an hour, before softening a little. Our sample was a ‘Studio Cut’ 3 and it took sometime to get used to the characteristics of this synthetic reed, after being so used to the conventional cane variety. The immediate response was very “toppy”, with a distinct lack of depth to the bottom end. We found manipulating the sound particularly difficult as there is a limited dynamic because of the effective fixed playing field. Changing from a metal mouthpiece to an ebonite did slightly change the playing parameters, but not we felt to any appreciable effect. Clearly, this synthetic reed would sit well in a combo/band situation, with its direct response, excellent intonation and clean, warm tone. Essentially it’s a case of horses for courses, and the Leger reed undoubtedly has its place – although you probably won’t be looking to use one in a free jazz format.  For more info go to www.legere-europe.co.uk

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