25th Anniversary: The New Chapter

COMPOSERS: Various
LABELS: Justin Time
ALBUM TITLE: World Saxophone Quartet
PERFORMER: Hamiet Bluiett (bs, cl), Oliver Lake (as), David Murray (ts, bcl), John Purcell (saxello, af)
CATALOGUE NO: JUST 149-2 (distr. New Note)

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What started out in 1976 as a ragged, free-blowing collective has arrived in 2001 as a refined reed choir that occupies the outer reaches of chamber music: the saxophone’s answer to the Kronos Quartet.

As founder member David Murray told writer Gary Giddins, ‘We used to sound like four people blowing against each other – every improvisation would sound the same. Then we became a group. Now we’re immaculate.’ He was not referring to their elegant trademark white tuxedos. The WSQ sound is immaculate – in arrangement and execution. It is becoming more accessible, too.

The spiritual ‘Goin’ Home’ sways and gently swings, with Bluiett’s baritone pinning it firmly to the ground. ‘Suki Suki Now’, a Murray composition, is heard as if through the aural equivalent of a kaleidoscope, but has an insistent blue bounce to it.

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Throughout, no phrase seems indulgent, yet every thought is fresh. Not until the last piece, ‘The New Chapter’, do the horns begin blaring in earnest. If you’ve been wondering where to start with the WSQ (it’s put out 20 albums), buy 25th Anniversary and work your way back. Garry Booth