Personnel: John Klemmer (vocals, tenor saxophone, Fender Rhodes piano, kalimba); Clint Holmes (vocals).
Audio Mixer: Ron Malo.
Illustrator: Denise Minobe.
Released the same year as Hush, Solo Saxophone II: Life was John Klemmer's third release for Elektra in two years. Interestingly, he followed the same formula he did with MCA: score a big single (in this case "Let's Make Love" from Hush) and strong arm the label into letting you do a more experimental outing. Self-produced and cut very quickly, Life is not so entrenched in the soft meditative vibe that his solo saxophone album Cry had been three years earlier. It begins with the sound of a kalimba as the prologue/intro into "Humanesque," which is an actual melody with a solo structure built in. Given Klemmer's signature echoplex saxophone, and the new-ish digital delay technology, he could multitrack harmonics in ways that weren't possible just a few years before: listen to the contrast between middle and lower registers on the various thematic interludes on this cut and it becomes readily apparent. His technical skill is superb, and his ability to roll notes in full voice (just the way his mentor John Coltrane did) as he moves in and out of phrases is quite remarkable. But the most important thing is that there is real soul in Klemmer's playing, not only on this cut, but on all of them. The kinds of impressionistic emotions that appear on most of his full band recordings of the period, where tunes and feelings are drowned out by production are almost absent here. In fact, as Klemmer moves into the true masterpiece on this set, "The Journey from Life to Death," it feels like he's actually trying to show the listener his insides. The primal sounding "Deepest Need of the Human Heart" is another such moment, where Clint Holmes gets to sing wordless falsetto with Klemmer's horn. The hard blowing on "Yes to Life" is startlingly fine and is pushed to near extremes in "The Mystery of Being," when a pitch bender and other electronic devices are added to the sparser lyric lines in the tune. While it's true the titles are sappy and pretentious, there are only two such moments on the entire album, and both of them involve Holmes and both are played on the Rhodes piano instead of on the saxophone: "The Rain Is the Tears of My God for Me," and "All I Ever Wanted Is My Life." While the feelings these songs express may indeed be authentic and real, they feel wildly out of place here. The last track proper on this set, "The Struggle to Be Free," is another killer Klemmer space sax workout where he plays around scales, and plays as if he turned a specific melody inside out. Its emotion, which is rather more suggestive than overblown, feels truly authentic and vulnerable. There is no talking any listener into actually enjoying a record like this one: she either will or won't. That said, even if this is perceived as an exercise in ego, Solo Saxophone II: Life should be appreciated for what it is, a very naked and vulnerable statement by a musician whose love for both his horn and the spiritual nature in his own heart is elusive, enigmatic, and all but inexpressible, but at least he tries. ~ Thom Jurek