June 2004

Cannonball Global Series Big Bell Tenor Saxophone

All things "cute" have overwhelmed me as of late. Don't get me wrong-cute has its place: puppies, little children, etc. But when it comes to saxophone products, cute is getting a bit old. So you can understand why I might be a bit apprehensive reviewing a saxophone with the name of "Cannonball" for a jazz magazine. Rest assured that this Cannonball-a nickel-plated, big bell, Global Series-is in reference to the large gun, not the famed Adderley of the alto saxophone. Cannonball is a relative newcomer to the saxophone world and boasts quite a list of clientele with artists ranging from the New Century Saxophone Quartet to tenor-man Pete Christlieb.

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Cannonball Global Series Big Bell Tenor Saxophone

When you open the faux Alligator case, the saxophone looks like something off of American Choppers. The dark patina of the glossy, nickel plating is striking, bordering on over-the-top. Soundwise, the Global produces a very free-blowing, centered sound. In fact, it might have been the freest tenor I have played in while. However, where the sound has a great deal of focus, it seems to lack some of the middle overtones that I usually expect in a big-bell saxophone. Additionally, it took me, and others who played it, a bit more time to tame the upper register. Everyone had a tendency to play very sharp, especially in the palm keys. This may have been a matter of poor adjustment. Overall, this horn performed well in both small group and big band settings. Projection is not a problem, but I did get the feeling that the saxophone led me to a particular-type of sound: When I tried to change the color and timbre, say to a more Stan Getz-type sound, I encountered a slight bit of resistance.

The Global Series has some nice technical aspects, including double-reinforced low C and B keys and a raised octave key lever. However, I felt this technical attention should have been carried over to other areas of the horn. First, the placement of the low E-flat and C levers was a bit out of proportion with the angle of the lower stack. I never became comfortable with the feel of these keys, and some students who have smaller hands commented on the difficulty in executing certain passages that used these keys. Also, I was surprised that the left hand C-sharp and B keys were not angled toward one another, an advancement that most horn companies are boasting. Movement from low C-sharp to low B became problematic for those with tinier mitts. Also, I felt that a support cork should have been placed behind the octave lever. Those players who use a "gorilla grip" will easily alter the placement of this lever in time.

There should be no question that this instrument is solid. In fact, it's a tank. Everyone who picked up this instrument greeted it with a resounding "Ugh!" This saxophone weighs almost a pound more than my '57 Selmer Mark VI. With the saxophone come some nice perks, including two necks, one in the matching nickel plate and another in silver. I found the silver neck helped highlight the lack of middle overtones, producing a brighter, rock sound, where the nickel neck was preferred for jazz and big-band work. Other additions include neck bags, polishing and care materials, mouthpiece and a Cordura gear bag. All this for a very attractive price that, sorry, Cannonball asked that we not print. (You can unravel the mystery by contacting the company via cannonballmusic.com.)

While I found very little that I disliked about the instrument, I do have some criticism about its visual appearance. The sax's
tremendous amount of engraving looked to be created via computer. The lack of human workmanship (which I am sure cuts down on cost) gave it a stenciled look, which caused some players to scratch at it to see if it was a sticker. The pearls have been replaced with a faux marble black resin. Frankly, this addition looked cheesy and cheapens the appearance. Everyone who tried the horn commented on the flamboyant look. Proof is in the playing they say, but some "traditionalists" might pass by this horn, mistaking it for one of the lower-end models geared for high school pep-bands.

Still, I liked this horn, though I felt the performance suffered somewhat due to its nickel plating. Having stated that, you should know that the company claims many players actually prefer this finish. Like a great steak that is swimming in too much ketchup, this horn begged to be set free. I would love to try a regular lacquered horn or Cannonball's unlacquered Mad Meg model. I am sure that I would feel and hear that classic sound that I was expecting.

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