There's an overwhelming funk groove in this recording from the 1997 Montreal International Jazz Festival. It may be a little bottom heavy, but those baritones can shriek, too, and all the players have chops to burn. With Burrage pounding out the beat, it must have been a spectacular concert. The jazz saxophone quartet, the instrumentation first borrowed from classical music for jazz by Anthony Braxton over two decades ago, is now well established. Bluiett, a founder of the World Saxophone Quartet, which has been pre-eminent since its inception, gets some of the credit for that, but now he's gone a step further. I guess you can't be shy and play an instrument like the baritone. The question is, does it work in the stereo also?
I'd say, yes, it does, on its own terms. These are not polite sounds to accompany a quiet rendezvous over cocktails. This music gets your body moving, with its insistent rhythms. The intervening free passages provide some spice, and give you a chance to rest before those powerful baritones break lose again, lining out the groove in solo statement, or with Burrage backing, or with the other horns forming a dissonant chorus.
Is Bluiet once again out in front of the trends? I doubt it. Innovation, surprise and even novelty are important values in jazz, as sophisticated audiences look for a fresh sound, something that will grab their attention. The Baritone Nation certainly does that: music so strong, so eccentric, so committed that it viscerally communicates the joy of performance you can literally feel it in your bones as the vibrations shake you, not unlike the big dance bands of old. I'd go see them in a minute. This recording is undeniably extraordinary, but I don't think its a trend-setter. One is enough for me.