Fiona Burnett Trio, Side On Cafe
By John Shand
April 16 2003
Were specialists on the soprano saxophone to form a club, it would be a very exclusive one, even with members drawn from around the world and across the decades.
Fiona Burnett is one of those souls who have eschewed altos, tenors and baritones to concentrate on the family’s piping, temperamental little sister. In doing so she has broken the straight horn’s aesthetic sound barrier, multiplying its sonic possibilities.
Describing her sound is as difficult as trying to capture the colour of water while sunlight and clouds dash themselves upon the surface: it mutates with the lines and the mood. It can be piquant, serene, weighty, light, volatile, pretty, exhilarating or gentle. The commonalities are a rapid vibrato, her wonderful facility and a creativity in constructing solos that are distinct from each other, partly because she does not depend on the instrument’s upper register for drama and climaxes – a drearily common pitfall.
Without such command, a soprano/double bass/drums trio could soon wear thin, but with Burnett, bassist Ben Robertson and drummer David Jones, this was never an issue. Robertson contributed unique warmth as he underpinned with a minimalism that was very astute, given the ample sonic information emanating from saxophone and drums. That his exceptional melodic flair was essentially held in store for a succession of imaginative and highly lyrical solos shows that the trio still has another avenue of exploration at its disposal.
Jones can’t help but command attention as his almost freakish level of virtuosity is brought to bear in machine-gun bursts of phenomenal invention. A tendency to add non sequiturs to the musical conversation in the opening Bronte’s Chant was largely eliminated thereafter, and one could only marvel at the resourcefulness and beauty of his free-time playing on Prelude For Three and the gentleness on The Gift. He capered around the walking bass on the good-humoured Bubba’s Blues, creating a wonderfully transparent effect while the soprano swirled.
As is often the case, the third set seemed an unnecessary addendum. A free improvisation, its pools of creativity were counterbalanced by arid stretches. Burnett’s compositions, by contrast, always engendered clarity of purpose.