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Saxophones and So Much More — The Tiptons Sax Quartet Plus Drums Live

The Royal Room in Seattle is a live music venue that’s hosted plenty of amazing music over the years, and I’ve seen quite a number of outstanding shows there, from Kira Kira to Bushman’s Revenge to Jaggery and Seaprog opening nights, not to mention a number of regional jazz artists. The club’s negatives, like difficult parking, are often outweighed by the quality of the music. A night with two sets by The Tiptons Sax Quartet Plus Drums certainly counts as one of those times.

by Jon Davis, Published 2023-03-16

photography by Danette Davis

Jessica Lurie with the Tiptons, photo by Danette DavisThe Tiptons have been around for 30 years now, with the current lineup in place for about half of that time. With Amy Denio on alto sax, Sue Orfield on tenor, Tina Richerson on bari, and Jessica Lurie on soprano, alto, or tenor as needed in the arrangement, the band is positively overflowing with talent and creativity. Drummer Xavier Lecouturier is a newcomer to the group, but his idiosyncratic approach to rhythm is a perfect complement to the anything-goes attitude of the saxes.

Drawing their material from arrangements of traditional music from many different cultures along with originals by all four saxophonists, the musicians exhibit astonishing flexibility, pivoting at a moment’s notice from blues-inflected lines to Balkan scales in odd meters. There’s also an undeniable undercurrent of humor to their music, so a Spike Jones influence isn’t out of the question. Raymond Scott is a certainty, as they’ve covered him in the studio (though they didn’t play anything at this show). The kind of precision required to pull off this music seems effortless here, as they move joyfully on stage.

For quite some time there have been vocal tunes in their repertoire, with Denio generally taking the lead, but it’s surprising to witness the quality of their four-part vocal arrangements. Denio’s singing, particularly her wordless improvisations, are truly amazing, with an impressive range and mastery of extended techniques along with a sly way of incorporating silly noises into the flow.

Xavier Lecouturier with the Tiptons, photo by Danette DavisLecouturier’s playing deserves a special mention as well. His drum solo was a master class in tempo changes. It went by too quickly for analysis, but it seemed that he was abruptly switching around in speeds related by obscure relationships and ratios. It had the sax players shaking their heads and smiling on stage.

Speaking before the show, Amy Denio confided that since the musicians all live in different cities and only get together to tour or record, that they have little opportunity to rehearse together. But she was quite happy with how well the tour was going — they’re playing better than ever. As an audience member who has seen the group several times, I couldn’t agree more. You don’t have to be a jazz aficionado to appreciate their music. This is the kind of entertainment that combines technical musicianship with easy-going flair in a way that anyone can enjoy.

Filed under: Concerts

Related artist(s): Amy Denio, The Tiptons (The Billy Tipton Memorial Saxophone Quartet)

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