Dressed to the nines in white tuxedos for the cover photo of this disc the WSQ obviously takes its quarter-century anniversary seriously. As they should, the four saxophonists have been something of an institution since their inception in 1976. Rolling the years forward from their inaugural run the group has undergone the requisite changes and growing pains. Original member Julius Hemphill is no longer with us, replaced some years back by Purcell, but the crux and focus of the band remains essentially the same, layered saxophonic interplay borne of jazz music’s beginnings as polyphonic street music. In the absence of traditional rhythmic voices of piano, bass and drums the horns take on these chores along with the joyful task of melodic and harmonic elaboration. The group’s moniker has never been a strict distillation of their instrumentation considering the integration of members of the wind and clarinet families into the fold along with percussion. But the core remains encapsulated in the sonorities of that horn most often associated with jazz.
The music on hand for the improvisatory jubilee is a cross-section of the quartet’s influences and usual repertoire. Anthemic rhythm and blues marks the opening “Suki Suki Now” while chamber-like counterpoint characterizes the aptly fragmentary “Bit’s n’ Pieces.” The old spiritual “Goin’ Home” further delves into the rich organic soil of blues roots and is a feature for Murray’s soulful tenor. With “Stock” the four take on the sound of a full sax section veering off into a myriad of component groupings through tight, but expansive harmonizing.
In true milestone marking fashion Ashley Kahn’s liners reveal some fascinating secrets of the group’s history and dynamics. One that caught my eye- New Orleans saxophone legend was the original catalyst for the group’s inception. To learn all the colorful details readers will have to acquire the disc. With this record the WSQ has proven once again as all of their past documents have that jazz is not a music beholden to any set instrumentation, that the feeling can be conveyed by any combination of voices properly wielded. Their longevity is cause for celebration to be sure. But in true creative fashion and as the closing incantatory “The New Chapter,” which marks the band’s first application of overdubs, suggests aurally these four veteran players would rather turn their gaze to the future, contemplating what further ground they will be breaking in the years to come.
Justin Time on the web: http://www.justin-time.com
Personnel: Bluiett- baritone saxophone, contra-alto clarinet; Oliver Lake- alto saxophone; David Murray- tenor saxopohone, bass clarinet; John Purcell- saxello, alto-flute, Tibetan bells. Recorded: May 19-22, 2000, Montreal.