The catalyst for this recording was a stunning solo piece that Cover imagemy great friend and frequent musical collaborator Gwilym Simcock wrote for my 51st birthday. I have performed that work, “Just Because” (which became the title track of the CD), many times since then, as part of my concert programmes, and I had plans to record it anyway, probably to use as a solo interlude on a CD sometime in the future. However, with the sudden and dramatic change to all of our worlds that happened in the Spring of 2020, I suddenly found myself with time to properly document this piece, and in the process also record a couple of other solo works that had been part of my concerts of late, primarily as a focus for my practice now that all concerts had been cancelled, rather than with any real plans to make an album at this stage. With a schedule as hectic as mine usually was, to suddenly have so much time to stop and think felt (at least at the beginning of Lockdown 1) like something of a gift – a chance to actually sit down and re-discover my sound, re-balance my playing in a slow and restorative way, rather than snatching ten minutes here and there between rehearsals, concerts, teaching, travelling, writing, producing and so on.

The unexpected time in my home studio also meant that I could begin completing the long planned suite of pieces for solo saxophone and backing track that I had begun when I wrote AltoGenesis back in 2012, and continued with Tenacity in 2015. The premise of this suite of pieces is that each solo saxophone is featured as soloist, with a backing generated only on that particular saxophone, using the instrument harmonically, melodically and rhythmically, generating rhythm effects, key clicks, special effects etc only using the saxophone itself. I had already written sketches for a Baritone piece, which then came together in the Autumn of 2020, and a Sopranino piece came to me rather unexpectedly around the same time. The Soprano work, SopraMotion was the final part of the puzzle, and without the usual social and musical influences I had to look inwards, really dig into my memory bank for the inspiration for this piece, which finally completed the set in January 2021.

By this time I had also compiled and recorded a much larger set of new solo pieces from a fantastic cross-section of UK composers whose music I feel a strong connection to and have a strong association with – Graham Fitkin, Jay Capperauld, Gwilym Simcock, Gary Carpenter & Sally Beamish (both of whom contributed new versions of solo pieces that they had written a while ago, but were as yet unrecorded), Julian Arguelles, Jenni Watson & Andy Scott. Suddenly, from the initially speculative recordings of individual pieces, the idea of organising these into a performance project and then a solo CD came into focus. It probably isn’t something I would have done if the world had carried on as it was – there were certainly several other album plans that were planned for this year for sure, (including a recording with Gwilym of one of several of our exciting cross-genre, contemporary classical meets improvisation projects), so in a way this new project came about ‘Just Because’ there was suddenly time to stop and focus inwards for a while.

I’ll be the first to admit that I had underestimated just how big a challenge it would be, from start to finish, especially as everything, literally everything to do with the recording would be my fault – I selected the pieces, performed them, recorded them, edited, mixed and mastered the CD, designed the artwork, everything. I, and most musicians I know, suffer from varying degrees of self-doubt and imposter syndrome, a constant sense that what we are doing is not quite good enough – and I certainly struggled with all of those throughout this process. I know from working with my amazing students at the RNCM that, as emerging artists with access to so much content online, they feel a sense of ‘where will I fit into the world, what will I have to say and who will want to listen?’ but as a mid-career artist, the same still very much applies, maybe even more acutely, as there will inevitably be some kind of expectation based on one’s previous output, and the incredible standard that our instrument is now played to around the globe can feel overwhelming when we think about putting our neck on the block and showing something of ourselves to the world.

Ultimately, for me, this CD became about just that – starting to make my peace with who I am as a musician, what I have to say, what my voice is, and framing aspects of that with this solo recording. I think our musical persona continues to grow and evolve over our lifetimes, so by accepting what we can’t do as much as what we can, ultimately, acknowledging our differences, inconsistencies, deviations from convention, every day we get a little closer to understanding and embracing the very things that come to define who we are as musicians.

The resulting recording is almost a double album on one CD – the first part of the disc, where I am curator/performer, features the nine completely solo works from the incredible UK based composers mentioned above, pieces that I hope will add to the already rich canon for our instrument. This leads into the second part where I become composer/performer. Despite initially evolving from seemingly unrelated works, there seems to me to be a real connection between the wonderfully creative and captivating solo works at the start to the five interlinked movements of my suite of ‘Short Stories’ that brings the disc to a close. I am really proud of the whole architecture of the recording and the journey that it (hopefully) takes the listener on. It seems to me that there is an innate simplicity, beauty and openness in solo instrumental music leaving the listener free to paint their own picture, explore a deeply personal reaction, emotion or feeling, to follow their own narrative.

This disc represents a deeply personal expression of who I am as a musician and I have tried to capture a genuine sense of performance as I recorded each piece, despite them being played in a studio setting. I have invested a great deal of myself in this album, arguably my most personal to date, and I genuinely hope that the listener finds something to connect with, something to engage and excite the imagination, something that is not actually about the saxophone at all.

“Just because – Short Stories for Solo Saxophone”, is my fifth CD as soloist (Towards the Light (1997), The Time Is Now (2006), Gameshow (2012), Duality (2014) and now Just Because (2021)) and looking back, there is a clear connection between all of those discs, each of which was also a snapshot of where I was as a musician at the time of recording: throughout my life as a performer, I have always sought out and connected with music with a narrative, a story to tell, and a compositional flexibility that allows me to continue my lifelong desire to bring together the colours, nuance and inflection from the jazz world and the technical fluency and control of the contemporary classical approach to the saxophone. It is my sincere hope that this collection of ‘short stories for solo saxophone’ takes the listener, as all good stories do, on many journeys of intrigue and wonder.

RB Manchester March 2021

‘Just Because – Short Stories for Saxophone’ is available directly via or via Bandcamp:

There are full liner notes on my website, and the sheet music and backing tracks for my compositions on this CD are also available to purchase on my website.

# Composition Composer Published by
Graham Fitkin
Déjà Vu
Jay Capperauld
Just Because
Gwilym Simcock
Gary Carpenter
Chester Music
Tom’s Turn
Sally Beamish
Etude No 1
Julian Argüelles
Etude No 5
Julian Argüelles
Jenni Watson
Always There
Andy Scott
Short Stories
Rob Buckland

(Whilst it is very much my hope that the listener will find their own narrative, here are a few words from the composers themselves about each piece)

Programme Notes from the Composers:

Graham FitkinBraemar: Graham Fitkin:

This piece was written for the inaugural One Fine Day music festival at Braemar in the Highlands of Scotland in 2017. It was performed by Simon Haram from the top of St Margaret’s Tower overlooking the village. He then performed the piece inside St Margaret’s from the top balcony. It focuses on the pitches B, A, E and A – taken from the ‘pitchable’ letters of the word ‘Braemar’. GF

Graham has been composer whose music feels home to me, and more importantly a great friend for many years now, and has written a wonderful concerto (Gameshow) for me, as well as a Quartet (Hurl) and Quartet Concerto (Plan B) for the Apollo Quartet, and I really wanted to include one of his many stunning compositions for saxophone on this disc. RB

Jay CapperauldDéjà Vu: Jay Capperauld:

Déjà Vu: A Re-Creation of the Prelude from Bach’s Cello Suite No.1 BWV 1007 is the 3rd movement in a larger series of works for Alto Saxophone and Piano, and this movement is based on a chapter from David Eagleman’s short story cycle ‘Sum: Forty tales from the afterlives’ entitled “Encore”, which tells of the Re-Creators who attempt to build a simulation of each person through the records left behind from their past life. Their aim is to re-create a person so impeccably that they will not be able to fathom whether they are still alive or are, in fact, in the afterlife; the only teller being the occasional occurrence of déjà vu reminding them that they have lived this life before. Therefore, this piece attempts to explore Encore’s ideas by re-creating the Prelude from Bach’s Cello Suite No.1 as though this work is being reconstructed in the afterlife as some kind of holographic simulation. JC

I first met Jay when he was a saxophone student at the RCS, and was immediately impressed by his creative imagination. I gave a series of masterclasses at the conservatoire over several years, when he was the early stages of spreading his wings as a composer, and I fondly remember some really engaging discussions about developing a unified approach to being a performer and composer. I have followed his career with real interest ever since, and when I heard a fantastic YouTube recording of Déjà Vu perform by the dedicatee, Lewis Banks, I immediately contact Jay and asked if I could record this piece on my CD. He and Lewis will release the whole Afterlife Suite from which this is taken on a CD later this year, and they very generously allowed me to record this version. RB

Gwilym SimcockJust Because: Gwilym Simcock:

Rob and myself have been working together on a number of really fun and engaging projects over the last couple of years, playing music that crosses over and combines elements from both the Classical and Jazz worlds. “Just Because…” was a birthday present for Rob, and was written partly to feature his great technical ability on the instrument, but mainly to showcase his wonderful ear for lyrical interpretation of melody, and his innate understanding of the importance of ‘feel’ and ‘groove’ within conventional classical rhythms.

Gwilym and I have been musical partners on some of the most exciting and creative collaborative projects of my career in the last four years or so – projects that bring together our shared love of music that blurs the lines between classical and jazz inspired music, notated and improvised, from chamber projects for Saxophone, Piano and String Quartet to full orchestral projects for Pianos, Saxophone, Bass & Drums and Orchestra. Out of the blue, he presented me with this truly wonderful solo work for my 51st birthday…and I have played it many times as part of our concerts together. I simply had to be the title track for this disc – I mean, why record an album of solo saxophone music? Well, Just Because! RB

Gary CarpenterBlue: Gary Carpenter:

Originally written for solo flute and now – with surprisingly few modifications – reworked for Rob, the original programme note was as follows: The last unaccompanied monophonic instrumental piece I wrote was for tuba and that was in my student days. I have avoided the medium ever since. Holly Melia’s request in 2012 for a solo piece consequently raised a number of issues for me: mainly fear and apprehension and how and where to start. Debussy’s wonderful but intimidating essay in this genre didn’t help. The unexpected impetus for starting ‘Blue’ though was Holly’s asking my lighting preference for the first performance. ‘Blue’ was my instinctive response and the more I thought about the colour blue, the more it seemed to me that this might be where the piece was headed. The ‘blues’ it is not, however. But it does glance at: the sea, the sky, Yves Klein, sadness, Fontana’s Copia, Vishuddha, Alice, Picasso and more . There is a lighting plan indicated in the score but is entirely optional.GC.

Gary is a good friend, and colleague at the RNCM in Manchester, whose music I have admired for so many years. I have performed some of his chamber and orchestral works, which often feature a saxophone part, including a real highlight playing the solo soprano saxophone part that he wrote especially for me in his epic Listening Project Symphony for BBC Philharmonic Orchestra. I called him early on in lockdown and asked if he had any solo music that he had ever written that would work as a saxophone piece, and I am absolutely delighted that ‘Blue’ fit the bill perfectly. RB.

Sally BeamishTom’s Turn: Sally Beamish:

I wrote Tom’s Turn in 1992 when I was enrolled on a course for composers, players, choreographers and dancers at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow. The course was given by the Ultima Vez company, with tutors Thierry de Mey and Wim Vandekeybus. Composers were asked to bring a short ‘calling card’ with them – a specially written piece that they could imagine being danced to. I called mine Tom’s Turn because I had dedicated a couple of pieces to my first son, but nothing to Tom, who was 18 months old at the time. It was his turn. The title also refers to a ‘turn’ – as in a short performance. I’d been told there would be a saxophonist there, but when I arrived he told me the range was too tricky for him. In the end the piece was programmed into music software on a keyboard, and played as a canon – which worked, to my amazement – because the music is constructed largely of fourths. I was very excited by this and could see how technology might be a wonderful aid to creativity, but it was years before I actually learnt to use any kind of music software myself. This version was choreographed and danced by a solo dancer – my first experience of writing for dance, and one which remained with me as hugely inspirational, although I didn’t get to write for dance again for many years.

I published the piece for solo clarinet, and it was premiered a few years later by Robert Plane. When Tom was 12, and a good trumpeter, I was commissioned to write a concerto for Swedish trumpeter Håkan Hardenberger, and in honour of Tom, I used the canon version of Tom’s Turn as the basis for the first movement. When Rob asked me about the piece, I said I thought the range wouldn’t work for saxophone – but he has proved me completely wrong! I am absolutely delighted with this performance.

I contacted Sally towards the end of last Autumn, and had a similar conversation to the one I had with Gary – I wondered if, alongside her wonderful concerti and sonata for saxophone, she had ever written anything completely solo that had yet to find a home, and she sent over three or four fabulous and intriguing pieces, from which we both agreed that Tom’s Turn was the perfect fit – and as you can see from her note above, was originally written for saxophone. I am absolutely delighted to be ablate include a piece from Sally, one of the most highly respected compeers of our generation, on my CD – thank so much Sally for your positivity towards the project. RB

Julian ArguellesEtude’s No.1 & 5: Julian Arguelles:

I had been planning on writing Etudes for the classical saxophonist for many years and it was mostly listening to Rob and working with his students at the RNCM, Manchester, UK, which finally convinced me to make a start on them. Etude No1 was conceived and written with Rob’s control of sound and technique, and his wonderful musicality, in mind. JA

Another great friend for so many years, Julian is one of my favourite musicians on the planet. I love everything about his playing and writing. The book of Etudes that he wrote is a constant companion, and I really wanted to include some of these on the disc – they were very much conceived to be stand alone concert pieces, and the two that I have chosen show very different characters of the soprano saxophone, and are both imbued with the very essence of Julian’s musical personality. RB

Jenni WatsonDownpour: Jenni Watson:

An introspective moment. Memories of endless torrential downpours while exploring Sydney. The change in colour, sound, and feel of a city blanketed by heavy rain. Observing people’s behaviour as much as the surroundings. Embracing such disruptive weather wholeheartedly. Exploring Sydney as a tourist, during a rainy season. Torrential Downpours – not letting them stop the exploration of the city. JW

Jenni was one of the most incredible students at the RNCM, graduating with a richly deserved first class degree ion 2008. When she applied to return for a Masters year, I challenged her to write her final masters recital, insisting that this was the only reason for her to continue studying with me – she was already showing a burgeoning talent for composition, and I wanted to push her to develop these skills alongside her playing. Her performance of the resulting 45 minute suite “Reflections” in her Master recital was one of the highlights of my 24 years of teaching at the RNCM, and I am delighted to now have produced 4 of her CDs or original music including the incredible “Unlocked” album due for release imminently, with Emma McPhilemy as soloist and Jenni as composer (not to mention playing almost all fo the backing parts on woodwinds, strings and keyboards! RB

Andy Scott

Rob & I met in 1985 and have worked closely on so many projects, travelling the world, recording, performing and teaching. It struck me, when Rob asked me if there was a work for solo saxophone that I’d written and which I’d like included on this album, that our history together could be a conceptual starting point. I’ve witnessed the unconditional love and support that he has always given to his daughters, Emma & Jodie, and ‘Always There’ is my way of recognising this. The words came first (which are private, for Rob) and then I set the words to music for solo saxophone (a concept that John Coltrane used with the Lord’s Prayer). Rob is speaking the words via the saxophone, the intention is that the listener experiences an emotional connection, the message being direct and deliberately simple, with space. AS

Andy is my longest standing musical collaborator and greatest friend, and I have recorded many of his wonderful saxophone pieces over the years – Nemesis on Towards the Light, Dark Rain on my Concertos CD, Whisper Goodbye on Duality, and was delighted to receive this wonderful new work for this recording. Andy knows just how important sound is to me, far above technical pyrotechnics, and the honesty and emotion of a simple line with a real meaning is where my musical heart lies. This piece perfectly rounds off the solo collection on my CD, proving a calm, contemplative moment as a bridge to the multi-tracked part of the disc. RB

Rob Buckland just becauseShort Stories: Rob Buckland

I wrote the first of these five pieces (AltoGenesis) in 2012, and soon after decided that I would like to write a set of works for all of the most common members of the saxophone family in a similar vein. The five pieces were each conceived as stand alone pieces, vignettes almost, for solo saxophone with a pre-recorded backing track generated only on that particular saxophone, but that would also connect as a suite if performed together.

Five members of the saxophone family each paint a picture, a soundscape, using perhaps unexpected saxophonic effects, key clicks, breath sounds, noises, effects and techniques to provide the motion and emotion underpinning each movement. There are several thematic, conceptual and compositional ideas subtly linking the five movements, re-appearing in different guises across the suite, almost as if each of the pieces describe five people on individual journeys, but whose stories cause them to pass each other in the street, each briefly, unknowingly, becoming part of the narrative of the other’s lives.

SopraMotion is inspired by that slightly mesmeric experience of looking out of a moving train window, as the passing rows of trees, fields, the rhythm of the landscape, strobes with the light of the sun, creating energy, rhythm, just as it settles into a pattern, another rhythm crosses with it, creating a counterpoint, suddenly a gentler moment, then more frenetic.

AltoGenesis describes the imagined scene of primitive being discovering a saxophone, trying to understand what this strange object is, tapping it, blowing into it, eventually breathing life into it, starting an unexpected heartbeat, and then watching the instrument coming to life, evolving from a mesmeric rhythm, to a single note, the interval of a fifth, and then layering onto itself, creating it’s own sound world for it to soar above.

Tenacity is a musical exploration of the unexpected twists and turns that life takes, and that uneasy sense we have that just as things are settling into a rhythm, a cross current, a change of energy starts pulling us in a new direction, a moment of euphoria, then a sudden stop, a falling, a darkening of mood, before somehow finding the strength from within to start again.

Barança explores the haunting, singing quality of the higher baritone saxophone register, painting a mysterious, desert-like soundscape, supported by saxophonic cross-rhythms, key-clicks and drum effects with more than a hint of Spanish influence, as if a ghostly dancer appears from the swirling dust clouds on a hot summer evening.

Carillino draws it’s inspiration from the wonderful Carillon bell-organs found in cathedrals around the world – a simple motif provides the impetus for this finale, building to a euphoric climax of ringing lines for a chorus of sopranino saxophones before gradually drifting off into the distance.

RB. Manchester, March 2021