Sometimes schooling is overrated. Sure, one has to be familiar with the jazz tradition in order to play the music, it's true. But formal education is a poor way to learn how to exploit imperfections and empower playing with raw energy. Those are things you have to learn from experience. Bluiett, who's been busy with his horn for decades now, is an expert on those subjects. As a member of the St.Louis Black Artists Group and the World Saxophone Quartet, plus collaborations with several progressive musicians, he's made a career out of performances that are rough around the edges and pulsing with energy.
Taking the saxophone quartet concept into the lower register, Bluiett led his Baritone Nation on a successful 1998 release. He's reconvened the horns for another romp around the studio on Blueblack, and the new production has a very satisfying range of color and feel. On "Zippin'," the group fairly dances with swinging, pulsing celebration. Perhaps composer/arranger Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson deserves much of the credit, but this tune and others strikes the balance between group cohesion and individual adventure very well. One piece later, percussionist Kahil El'Zabar (an integral member of the sextet) engages the group in a natural-sounding call and response conversation that exploits a tribal feel and the rawness of the blues. And later they pursue lyrical melodicism ("Lamentation for JJ/Ballad for Babs"), only to explode into nuclear fission moments thereafter. At times when the rules fly out the window, this music tests the group's interpersonal relationships most strongly. The horn players often butt heads in noisy disagreement, but they also come together in sweet and completely unforseeable ways.
Lacking decades of experience together, this group doesn't have the intuition and pulse of the WSQ. But as an experiment in progress, it has a welcome unpredictability. And that's where formal education is useless. For what it is, Bluiett's sextet delivers a raw, satisfying experience on Blueblack.
Personnel: Bluiett: baritone sax; James Carter: contrabass clarinet, baritone sax;
Patience Higgins: bass clarinet, baritone sax; Alex Harding: bass clarinet,
baritone saxophone; Lee Person: trap; Kahil El'Zabar: African percussion,