Dennis Cook, at All About Jazz:
By Dennis Cook
Anyone who’s ever collected crappy bootlegs for a favorite band will understand the illogical passion at the core of this tribute to Yes. SF Bay Area saxophonist with funkateers Ten Ton Chicken has transformed himself into a one-man sax quartet, charting out and playing all the parts of tenor, soprano, alto & baritone (and on the gorgeous “We Have Heaven” a baritone floating on a chorus of altos). Smeltz possesses the gutbucket throatiness of ‘50s jump blues but harnessed to the beautiful, intersecting lines of multiple sax tones that evoke memories of David Murray, Arthur Blythe, Von Freeman and other horn legends. He’s really that good. This album is the product of six years of working & reworking the material and the end product exposes hitherto unseen possibilities in these compositions. “Hovian Fantasy” begins with a saunter down a New Orleans alley and then attacks Steve Howe’s folk roots in a medley that includes “The Clap” & “The Ancient”. What jumps out at one is how breathlessly pretty this music is when handled by Smeltz, who’s only collaborators are brother George Smeltz on some unobtrusive drumming and fellow TTC member Gary Morrell who plays some insightful guitar on “And You And I” which shines here as a song of pure joy, the inarticulate speech of flowers & streams. Yes should be flattered and their fans will be pleased for a whole host of reasons by this lovingly crafted gem. Available directly from Smeltz at www.saxlife.com
Music Street Journal
Saxlife is Jamison Smeltz performing as a saxophone quartet of one. Here he has compiled a collection of his arrangements of Yes songs. The result is certainly intriguing, and works pretty darn well at times. There are other times where it falls just a little short, but really this one should be a sure winner for Yes fans. I would also wonder if it might allow some fans of jazz to have their first taste of Yes music. If this release gets around perhaps we'll find a lot of old school jazz aficionados buying up the Yes catalog. For more info or to order the CD contact Jamison at firstname.lastname@example.org. I wonder if the members of Yes have heard this one, and if so, I wonder what they thought. Isn't creativity and new visions what the band is about? I bet they would really like this.
Track by Track Review
We Have Heaven: Smeltz' take on this classic track is cool and jazzy, if a bit noisy and dissonant at times.
Turn of the Century: Smeltz does a nice job of capturing this one. The saxophone arrangement of the piece creates an intriguing variation of the experience, perhaps even altering the listener's understanding of the musical interplay of the original. The latter sections of this one are the most effective.
Hovian Fantasy: Here Smeltz creates a montage of saxophone interpretations of Steve Howe guitar segments. He leads it off with "Clap". This at first is unrecognizable, but as the bouncy groove enters it feels like a fun Dixieland jazz piece. This almost works better in this format than on acoustic guitar. He then moves it into "Arada". This one is a cover which Steve Howe performed on Not Necessarily Acoustic. It's a bit nondescript, but fortunately he doesn't stay here long, instead moving to the Howe solo piece "Mood For a Day" which works quite well in this format. Next up is the guitar solo segment from "The Ancient", and this is another point where the sax does a nice job. He also works in sound bites from "Sound Chaser" and makes his way back to "Clap" to end.
And You And I: This one actually includes some guitar, and I have to say the jazzy arrangement here works very well. This is my second favorite part of the album.
The Big Medley: Smeltz saves the best for last. Here he takes on some of the juicier parts of a number of classic Yes cuts. Among the material he pays homage to are "To Be Over", "Future Times", "Heart of the Sunrise", "Then" and "South Side of the Sky". For Yes fans like myself it's a wonderful trip into familiar yet new territory. I would imagine that it would be quite entertaining even for those not familiar with the source material. As my favorite track here, this is a great way to end the disc.