Sunday, February 21, 2016

Review: Buffet 400 Baritone Gold Laquer Finish

Five years ago, when I was still working in music retail sales, a young man came into the store with his parents to buy a baritone saxophone.  He had played alto in the school band, but he liked the baritone and was given a spot in the school band to play it.  The baritone assigned to him by the school was not very good to say the least, and anyway, he wanted to have his own baritone.  Since he was a serious student and practiced faithfully every day, his parents decided it was worth investing in a new instrument for him.  The selection of baritones we had at the store at the time wasn't very extensive.  We had a proprietary store brand for 2 grand, that although it looked good, I knew would be a lemon.  The other baritones I had were a Yamaha 52, for over 5 grand, and a P. Mauriat 302GL for about $4200.  Both were more than the parents could afford.  The kid tried the store brand, and it seemed to play and sound well enough.  However, I knew from past history of this horn that it simply wouldn't hold up.  I was right.  A month later, he came back with it, showing me how a soldered post had just detached from near the octave key.  It was also apparent to me that he did not abuse or otherwise mishandle the horn in any way.  Although it was past the date to return it, he was still within the warranty period where he would get free repairs and adjustments. The tech resoldered the post and he took it home.  A month later he is back with his parents, and he shows me that a couple more posts have detached, as well as a keyguard.  Once again, close inspection revealed no abuse or mishandling.  It was the lemon I knew it would be.  So I worked it out with the regional manager to take the saxophone back.  Though it was past the exchange limit as well, we allowed them to either make an even exchange for the same horn, which he didn't want, or what his parents paid could be put to the purchase of a new one.  They opted for a new one, but were still worried about the cost.  It was almost impossible to find a good, pro quality baritone that was under 4 grand.  I told them that the Buffet 400 was an excellent baritone, and that a well-known pro baritone player, Lauren Sevian, who is also my friend, played one. At that time, they were going for around $3400.  However, although we didn't have the Buffet 400 baritone in stock, I knew that they had them at the Buffet showroom in Manhattan. I sent him there with his parents and they had both the gold lacquer and the matte finish.  He fell in love with the gold lacquer horn, and once his parents approved, I made out the purchase order and he was able to take the horn home that day.

Several months later he came back to the store to get some reeds and I asked him how he liked his Buffet 400.  He nodded and smiled, and said he loved the horn. Great sound great action.  Fast forward 5 years and a few weeks ago I am now officially retired and in the store to pick up a couple of books and check out some horns that I haven't played that I would like to review.  Unfortunately, since I retired, the new department manager doesn't really know much about saxophones, so the selection is whatever the main warehouse sends, and they never seem to have any more big names, the best they have being a Yamaha 26 and 480 and a couple of Cannonball Big Bell Stone Series saxophones.  As I am looking over some books, the young man, whose name is Victor is now 5 years older and just having finished college walks into the store dragging his Buffet 400 baritone behind him.  After high school, he went to the Manhattan School of Music, and was now taking private lessons to further his music education.  He actually got interested in playing in a classical context, and was taking the private lessons from a classical saxophone teacher.  I asked him about the 400 and how he was getting along with it.  He told me that the sax played great and that it was very reliable,  having only the usual minor adjustments that were needed, but no major repairs.  He loved the sound and that it was a sturdy, dependable instrument.  Since I had come into the store with the intention of trying out a couple of horns, I also brought all my mouthpieces and my Legere reeds with me.  I happened to have my Meyer 5 baritone with me, so I asked him if he minded if I try it.  No problem.  

I was never much of a baritone player, always felt as if my sound was a little tubby and not to my own liking.  Gerry Mulligan I wasn't.  Not even Seymour Mulligan.  However, after getting a decent baritone sound from the Phil Barone I tested a little while ago, I figured I would try more baritones and get a little more accustomed to them so I can review them and also maybe at some later time, like if I win the lottery, to get one.  I would eventually like to have a full range of saxophones in my collection if that will ever be possible.  We went into the practice room and I slipped the reed and mouthpiece on and began.  I did need a little warm-up since the first couple of notes came out sounding like a loud belch.  However, after a few minutes, I was able to get in my groove and proceed to play some baritone.  Since the baritone is also pitched to Eb like the alto, I merely transferred some alto tunes I play to the baritone.  
Key action. like the other Buffets I have played is solid, and after 5 years of constant playing, I couldn't detect any tell-tale rattling or noise.  The baritone is used frequently in jazz and rock music, and everyone reading this is I am sure familiar with the traditionally rough, gruff sound the baritone has in those contexts.  However, I also listen to a lot of classical sax soloists, quartets and ensembles, and the baritone is capable of  very graceful, cello like tones.  I tried playing the cello part from the 3rd movement of Brahms' 2nd Piano Concerto, since I always thought it's a beautiful piece and that it would be a perfect piece to be transcribed and adapted for a classical baritone player with a piano accompanist.  The Buffet 400 bari played with a smooth tone.  It has a dark, deep tone, and like the alto and tenor versions, I found that from that darker core, you could achieve a greater tonal and dynamic flexibility and range.  This also makes this saxophone fit into any musical context that you want to play it in.  The tone was well balanced and the intonation spot on, and again, like the other 400's, altissimo was also easily achieved.  I then played some tunes like "All The Things You Are" and "Sophisticated Lady".  All in all, the Buffet 400 is the kind of baritone saxophone that can be played in any musical context.  I can also say that this is one of the better baritone saxophones out there and at its price point, is probably the best deal around.  If you want to make the baritone either your primary instrument or are a working pro that needs a full range of saxophones for gigs, shows and recordings, or just to add one to your saxophone arsenal, the Buffet 400 baritone is really the best buy out there.  You can have a more expensive baritone, but not necessarily a better one.

Here are a couple of videos of Lauren Sevian, a Buffet 400 artist, playing the 400 baritone

You can hear the Buffet 400 baritone in a classical context in this video. The alto is a Buffet Senzo.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Review: Chateau TYA900E3, TYT900E3 Alto and Tenor Saxophones

The holidays are over, the Groundhog predicted an early Spring, and judging by the mostly mild weather we've had here in New York, I'm inclined to believe that.  In fact, as I write, it is quite sunny and mild and looking and feeling much more like Spring than winter.  I hope that all of my readers had a blessed holiday and new year.  I recently retired officially, and this has given me more time to go out to live performances and see many of my friends, visit them at home and doodle on their saxophones, and once again to go out to various retail and repair shops and play test saxophones. I have had the opportunity to play a lot of new saxophones recently of varying price ranges, and in the coming weeks, will be publishing reviews on them, as well as other articles.  My reviews will concentrate on new saxophones, since there seems to be many new models and brands popping up every day.  Many more retail stores and repair shops are also marketing their own proprietary line of saxophones in order to offer their clients a brand new but inexpensive saxophone for learning on or for their school music programs.  For example, I recently reviewed a series of saxophones from Phil Barone, a New York based repair tech and maker of fine mouthpieces, and he offers a very extensive line of saxophones that are of professional quality but priced at student and intermediate levels.  Although the resale value of a proprietary sax from a repair shop is next to nothing, the advantage is that it can be had for a price that a student or a working professional on a budget can afford, and is backed by the repair shop where you can always take it for repair and maintenance or address any quality issues directly.  If the sax is from a retail store, make sure they have a fair return policy and a repair facility on the premises.  If a store can't back up their instruments, skip them. 

In October of 2014, I did a review of two Chateau alto saxophones, the TYA753 with a vintage finish that was 92% copper with matt gold lacquer keys, and the TYA760, solid nickel with gold lacquer keys.  I was very impressed with the build quality, playability and sound of these saxophones.  I recently had the chance to try the Chateau TYA900E3 alto sax and the TYT900E3 tenor.  The Chateau label is a relative newcomer to the market.  These saxophones are built in Taiwan by the Tenon Corporation.  They have built saxophones for other labels in the past but are now marketing their saxophones under their own brand, as many other Taiwanese companies are now doing as they have stepped up their game, building saxophones of excellent and professional quality and can now step out of the shadows and into the spotlight on their own merits.  The Chateau brand, along with other Taiwanese brands like P. Mauriat and Lien Chang are producing saxophones of excellent quality and at affordable prices.  P. Mauriat for example has already established themselves as a top professional brand, along side Selmer, Yamaha, Keilwerth and Yanigasawa.  I would also include Buffet, but it's an odd quirk in the music business that their top professional saxophones, which are among the best made in the world, haven't gotten the attention or even consideration of the other brands.  However, their 400 line has been doing very well, and my next review is on the 400 baritone.  

I once again visited my friend and repair tech of over 30 years at his home, where he does repair work for a select few (fortunately I'm one of them since the quality of his work is beyond excellent), and buys and sells saxophones new and old.  He used to have his own shop in New York which he worked out of for nearly 30 years, but excessively high rents drove him out.  He now works privately out of his home for his regular clients.  Visiting his house is like being in a saxophone and flute museum.  The walls of his work area and living room are exposed brick, and he has vintage saxophones and flutes decorating the walls.  For example, he has 4 original Adolphe Sax horns, from 1848, 1852, 1865 and 1868.  He has one of the few slide saxophones ever made.  He has a nice collection of Conn New Wonders, Transitional and prewar M series saxophones, as well as King Super 20's, Martin Committees, Buescher Aristocrats and 400's, Selmer SBA and Mark VI, all of which he sells. He also buys and sells newer horns, not as an exclusive dealer, but he manages to acquire them and then quickly sell them.  He calls me frequently to try out any new or old horn he has acquired, likes to get my take on them, and I am happy to oblige because it gives me access to saxophones I can review here.

This brings me back to the Chateau saxophones.  He called me up a few weeks ago to tell me he had a bunch of new saxophones from Taiwan that he wanted me to try before he sold them.  The others were made by Lien Chang and a company called Sadhuoo.  I already played and liked the Chateau saxophones, I had heard a lot about Lien Chang as they were actually the very first saxophones made in Taiwan and I met the American distributor a few years ago, but I never heard of Sadhuoo, though I was told that they made saxophones and mouthpieces for other labels and now were also trying to break into the market on their own.  However, before they do that, they will need to come up with a brand name that will be more easily identifiable to the market.  I will also review these saxophones in upcoming posts.  Having already had a good experience with the Chateau saxophone, I was eager to try the two he had.  Both saxophones, like the other ones I tried, came in a rectangular cloth covered hard case.  The case is similar to a ProTech style case. It had an extra large pocket on the outside for carrying books and sheet music and accessories, with the logo gold stitched on it.  
 As is obvious by the photos and the model numbers, both saxophones are the same model, so this gives me a good idea of how they play side by side.  There are certain model lines where the full range of horns from soprano to baritone are consistent and play equally well across the board.  I find that true particularly of Yamaha, Keilwerth and Yanigasawa.  With Selmer, and this is just me, I find that while their altos and tenors are consistent, I have had varying playing experiences with their sopranos and baritones, which I never liked as much as their altos and tenors. I can't say why, but other players have told me this too.  I do find a consistency with the sound of the full range of P. Mauriat saxophones as well. I have liked the recent editions of Cannonball saxophones and find that they also are consistent throughout their range.  

Chateau TYA900E3 Alto Saxophone
The first thing about both saxophones is that from a visual perspective, these are absolutely gorgeous saxophones.  They are both among the most beautiful looking saxophones I have seen.  The deep, cognac lacquer gives the saxophone a vintage hue, and is really stunning.  The finishes of both horns were evenly applied. I saw no uneven spots or lacquer blobs anywhere.  The deluxe hand engraving was on the bell, bow, bell rim and neck and really stood out, adding a very luxurious look to the saxophone, which if you didn't know was a Chateau you might mistake for a Selmer Reference 54.  Like other modern saxophones, they range from low Bb to high F# and they employ ribbed construction.  Other features of both saxophones were rolled tone-holes, the real ones rolled from the body and not soldered rings, double arms on the low C, B and Bb keys for extra stability and in better regulation, a brace to stabilize the G#-Bb pinky cluster, beautiful abalone key touches, and a larger bell.  The brass is 85% copper, which gives it a warm, complex tone that is also flexible.  From an aesthetic standpoint, they are first-class looking instruments, and will look good no matter what the gig, whether it is classical or jazz.  The keywork had a very positive feel.  The keywork was solid and the response up and down the horn, from top to bottom felt precise and sure.  Part of this may have been due to the fact that my friend adjusts every saxophone he gets, but just the same, I think the keywork is built so that any proper adjustment of the horn will result in excellent mechanical action. 

For the alto I used my trusted Meyer 6M mouthpiece with a Rovner Dark ligature.  I used to use LaVoz medium reeds, but lately have been using Legere Signature 2.5 reeds exclusively.  They give me exactly the sound I want consistently.  It is the only synthetic reed right now I can say that about.  Each one lasts long enough to make them also very cost effective.  For every one reed of the Legere I use, I would have gone through at least 3 or 4 boxes of cane reeds, and as any player knows, they are getting more and more expensive.  The Signature reed allows me to shape the tone any way I want like a cane reed, but without the inconsistencies of cane. For the tenor, I use the Jody Jazz Red 6 with the tongue removed (I prefer an open chamber) with a Rovner Dark ligature that actually came with the mouthpiece, and also a Legere Signature 2.5 reed.

I have written in my reviews several times of what I call the "WOW" factor when I play certain saxophones.  That happens when I play the first notes, and what comes out of the saxophone takes me by surprise and greets me with a sound that has many qualities that I consider essential for a saxophone to be worthy of consideration.  The first thing is that as soon as you blow into the mouthpiece, does the horn speak right away or do you have to coax it?  What always makes me go "WOW" right away is when I blow the first notes and the sound just comes out with power.  This has nothing to do with actual volume, but with the ease a clear tone comes out of the horn.  From that point, I will know what the saxophone will be capable of.  Well, I can say that when I first blew into the YTA900 alto, I was "WOWED".  The sound was rich and deep.  It has an initially dark, classical tone to it, and I found that I could really stretch out on this horn and play a very wide range of music.  In fact, it was as nice a tone as I have heard in any of the best saxophones I've played.  The first thing I played was a classical piece "The Old Castle" from "Pictures at an Exhibition" from Ravel's orchestration of Mussorgsky, as well as the alto part from "L'Arsienne Suite" by Bizet and "Claire de Lune" by Debussy.  The tone was clear and sonorous, and I found that I was able to play the lower notes with ease and they sounded full and rich without sounding "tubby", and the high notes including altissimo just popped out without sounding shrill or thin.  That is another thing I always look for.  If I play the high notes and they make my ears ring, then it's not a horn I would play. Any classical player would do very well with this horn, in both the tone, mechanical and looks department.

Now came time for me to play some jazz, rock and pop tunes.  I always start off with jazz ballads and blues and the first tune I played was "The Nearness Of You", followed by another favorite "My One And Only Love".  This is definitely a ballad horn, but then I figured it would be by the way it played the classical tunes.  I played some blues, and I got a Johnny Hodges like tone from it, which is a good thing.  In my opinion, Johnny was the best blues player on alto sax and if you don't believe me, listen to any of his solo recordings away from Duke Ellington, where he played mostly blues and jump numbers.  I always modeled my blues playing, as well as ballad playing on Johnny Hodges, and this saxophone was able to get the kind of lush tone that was Johnny's hallmark.  Then I played a couple of Benny Carter tunes or versions of popular standards as played by Benny.  I ran through tunes like Benny's "Blue Star", as well as tunes that he covered like "One Morning In May", "August Moon", "The Midnight Sun Will Never Set", "Things Ain't What They Used To Be" and "Blue Lou".  Then I played Cannonball Adderley's "Work Song", Art Pepper's version of "You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To", "Parker's Mood" and "Now's The Time" by Charlie Parker, "Take Five", by Paul Desmond, and my usual not quite successful attempt at playing Jimmy Dorsey's "Oodles of Noodles".  In every case I got the sound I was after and the mechanics allowed me to easily execute the tunes and respond to my touch with no excess play in the keys that would give me unwanted grace notes.  I then played a few pop tunes, like the obligatory "Baker Street" riff, and Billy Joel's "Just The Way You Are", which was actually originally played by the late, great Phil Woods.  I played a couple of Jimi Hendrix tunes that I found work very well on the sax. "Little Wing", and "One Rainy Wish".  When I pushed it, I could get an edgier tone that was still lush and full.  My feeling was that if you put the right kind of mouthpiece on it, you would be able to get whatever sound and play in whatever style you preferred.  If you are a studio player, or a working pro that has to play many musical styles, this horn can do it for you. 

Chateau TYT900E3 Tenor Saxophone
All the aesthetic and construction points of the alto apply to the tenor version as well.  As beautiful a tenor sax as I have ever seen.  I fit my Jody Jazz mouthpiece on it and once again, the first notes I blew into it made me go "WOW".  It was simply one of the nicest tenor sounds I ever heard.  I have played them all, from Conn Chu Berry and M series saxes, to Buescher True Tone, Aristocrat and 400 saxophones, Martin Handcraft, Centennial, and Committee I, II and III and Magna saxes, King Zephyr and Super 20's, Selmer Modeles 22, 26, SBA, Mark VI, VII, SA 80 and SA 80 series II and III, Reference 54 and 36 saxes, all of the Yamaha, Keilwerth, P. Mauriat and Yanigasawa saxophones as well as some fine saxes by Buffet, and lesser known makers like Cuesnon, Dolnet and SML, and this tenor, as well as the alto could stand toe to toe with any of them as far as I am concerned.  I played one classical piece "The Swan" by Camille Saint Saens, and it had a cello like quality to it, which makes sense since it is originally played on that instrument.  Then I went for the blues and jazz ballads and tunes.  Like the alto, this tenor had a full and rich. well-balanced tone in all registers, and whatever I wanted to play, the horn responded in kind.  Want to play some Lester, or Ben, or Hawk, or Trane, or Sonny?  This horn can help you.  Of course, if you just want to sound like yourself, this horn can help you too.  I concluded by playing Clarence Clemons solo on "Jungleland".  I finished playing with a deep sense of satisfaction, wishing I could take these horns home.

I found these saxophones to be as really good as anything out there, regardless of price point.  The alto is going for around $2500, and the tenor at around $2800, though I have seen them for even less than that on various dealer web sites.  In appearance, mechanical action and sound, these saxophones are as good as any of the bigger name saxophones.  As much as I really loved the latest editions of the Selmer Reference 54, I have to honestly say that these two saxophones are every bit the match for that horn, and for less than the price of one Selmer, Keilwerth or Yanigasawa sax, you can have both the alto and tenor version of the Chateau 900 saxophones, and still have some change left over.  This is especially significant if you're a serious student who wants a better sax, or a working pro on a budget that still needs a top notch instrument for gigs and studio work.  For all intents and purposes, the Chateau 900 saxophones are excellent pro level horns, though some advertise this as a "high level Intermediate" horn, or a step up horn. It is in my estimation better than that.  Construction and build quality is solid, and they have the feeling of being a horn that will play and last for years.  These are killer horns, and if you are in the market for a new horn, or a better horn than you're playing, and not hung up on name, then I would give these saxophones serious consideration.

For more information visit their web sites
Here are a couple of videos demonstrating these saxophones.  He is constantly referring to them as high level intermediate horns or step up horns, but from my own playing, they are far better than that. 

If you're wondering why I haven't posted videos of myself playing the horns, it's because I am not making any money from this blog, and until Google allows me to make money from advertising, I just don't have the cash to buy the equipment needed to do make a good video.  However, as soon as I can, I will get a Zoom video recorder and then make video demos for future reviews, as well as putting them on older reviews. Bear with me.