CD Reviews

Music on the Web (UK)

Webmaster: Len Mullenger

Reviewers: Don Mather, Dick Stafford, Marc Bridle, John Eyles, Ian Lace, Colin Clarke


25th Anniversary. The New Chapter.

Justin Time Just 149-2

Listening to this album, it is difficult to believe that the World Saxophone Quartet has been producing music for a quarter of a century. It has the freshness and vitality one would expect from recent arrivals rather than seasoned campaigners like Bluiett, Lake and Murray.

It is also difficult to think back twenty-five years to a time before the WSQ, such is the extent that they have changed the landscape. They were the first sax quartet and have remained the best. They have spawned many imitators (Academia SQ, Apollo SQ, Billy Tipton Memorial SQ, British SQ, Great Circle SQ, Hard Bop SQ, Jazz Composers Alliance SQ, New York SQ, The Osland SQ, Pink Noise SQ, Prism SQ, Royal City SQ, ROVA, 29th Street SQ, Windmill SQ, Your Neighbourhood SQ, to name but a few!) but no equals.

No other sax quartet has consistently produced such stimulating, innovative and entertaining music. And, yes, entertainment is a vital ingredient of their music. Despite their roots in the New York avant-garde loft scene of the 70s, WSQ have never been purists or ideologues. They have embraced the jazz tradition and can swing as hard as anyone, as demonstrated by fine tribute albums to Duke Ellington and Miles Davis, and their albums recorded with African singers, drums and percussionists. On occasions they have recorded with a full rhythm section, but they can make just the four horns swing. Of course, they have never lost sight of their avant-garde roots, and can blow as wild and free as anyone.

One of the keys to their success is that all four members write for the group, and their contrasting compositional styles provide plenty of variety. In their early years, Julius Hemphill was the main composer but never the sole composer. All four original members were strong personalities who were leaders in their own right. (To date, John Purcell - who eventually replaced Julius Hemphill after his departure in 1990 - has not recorded as a leader, but he is younger and has an impressive track record as a sideman. And he does compose for the group.) Such activities have never taken second place to the WSQ, in fact they feed ideas and compositions into the group, keeping its music fresh and evolving.

This album features just the four saxophones unaugmented. It opens with Suki Suki Now, a David Murray piece that is also on his own new album. Like several Murray pieces, it has its origins in r'n'b, and makes for a rousing introduction. After two more reflective pieces, one by Oliver Lake, one by Hamiet Bluiett, comes an arrangement of the traditional Goin' Home (also used as the Largo in Dvorak's New World Symphony) that is reminiscent of similar pieces such as Amazing Grace on David Murray's "Spirituals" album. Its evocatively mournful melody contrasts with some of the freest blowing on the album. Fittingly, the album closes with John Purcell's The New Chapter, which looks forwards not backwards. Over twelve minutes long, at times it seems to have pretensions to be a tone poem. However, these never overwhelm the inherently joyful (and funky) playing. The piece features the quartet's first use of overdubbing, giving the effect of a large horn section over which individual voices improvise. The piece must be counted an interesting and effective experiment that lays the foundations for future exploration. Indeed, not a bad way to be after twenty five years.

John Eyles

D.S. is a professional reed player and teacher living in Coventry.

Return to Index

Reviews from previous months

You can purchase CDs, tickets and musician's accessories and Save around 22% with these retailers: