Jazz saxophone quartets seem to be divided firmly into two camps. The first camp, exemplified by ROVA, the 29th St. SQ and the World SQ, specializes in original avant-garde material that explores the fringes of jazz and the myriad capabilities of the horns. The second, the realm of the Nuclear Whales and the present Capitol Quartet, concentrates exclusively on reinterpreting jazz standards and classical selections. Both schools have their merits, though the ground tread by the Capitol Quartet is certainly among the most globally entertaining and user-friendly. Here the group is augmented by a rhythm section, other horns and an orchestra to bring the sax-frontline concept into a different light. There are, however, several quartet-only tracks to satisfy fans who prefer the unaugmented ensemble.
The quartet members honed their formidable skills in military bands, classical ensembles and premier colleges. Baritonist David Lewis and sopranist Ken Foerch both performed with “The President’s Own” U.S. Marine Band and are presently active as instructors. Altoist Anjan Shah, an alumnus of the U.S. Army Field Band, has performed with the likes of Peter Nero, Sandy Duncan, Jack Jones and Natalie Cole. Tenorist David Stambler has worked as a major symphony soloist and sideman with Aaron Neville, Rosemary Clooney, Smokey Robinson and Louis Bellson among others. All these jazz and pop influences, and many more, come to light in this exceptional collection of musical masterworks.
The tone is set by the band’s take on the Camelot theme, one of many arrangements by pianist Vince Norman. The light, airy melody floats liberatedly above the feathery punctuations of drummer Todd Harrison. The solo by trombonist Jim McFalls seemed out of place at first, as he had not played one note prior, but it’s a solo of such sculpted charm that all is quickly forgiven. McFalls also solos on track #2, which is backed by a lush orchestra that evokes MGM’s heyday. The orchestra doesn’t play as predominant a role on the Beethoven piece as one might expect, which is just fine in this context. The large ensemble is also used wisely on tracks 8 and 19 as an important coloring agent, but it never washes away the dominance of jazz voicings in the set.
The bouquet of compositions selected here is certainly varicolored, ranging from basic spirituals to Broadway warhorses to profound classical works. The arrangements by Norman, Stambler, Mike Crotty, Alan Baylock and others bring a new vitality to each song, all anchored by the talents and discernment of the four saxophonists. The classical renderings are especially inviting. Schumann’s Traumerei is fragile and poignant; Stravinsky’s Pastorale is almost martial in rhythm but soars with exuberance. The Bach fugue begins with traditional austerity, but before it’s over a humorous swing fever sets in. Flight of the Bumble Bee is appropriately frantic and makes one wonder how many takes were necessary in the studio to nail this sucker down. On the other side of the coin are the three Cole Porter renditions, potentially hackneyed standard fare rejuvenated into bubbly, uplifting swingers. Anything Goes even features a percussion section that, I believe, consists of the saxophone key pads being quickly clicked open and shut. The sole original, #16, is a regally attractive tune dedicated to Margot Bos Stambler and tenderly presented by the bare quartet.
This album can be summed up in one word: enchanting. The finely executed set is yet another triumph from the fantastic Summit Records catalog, widely appealing to fans of the saxophone, Broadway, and light-spirited jazz in general.
Personnel: David A. Lewis, baritone sax; Anjan G. Shah, alto sax; Kenneth R. Foerch, soprano sax; David B. Stambler, tenor sax; Vince Norman, piano; Todd Harrison, drums; Tom Baldwin, bass; Jim McFalls, trombone; orchestra conducted by Sam Pilafian on tracks 2, 3, 8, 19.