World Saxophone Quartet: Experience (2005)
With its glory days more than arguably behind it, the WSQ has become something of a powerhouse repertory band. Beginning in 1977, the four saxophonists (then Hamiet Bluiett, Julius Hemphill, Oliver Lake, and David Murray) released seven remarkable albums in eight years before finding a second calling as an interpreting ensemble with 1986's brilliant Plays Duke Ellington. They followed that with an R&B set and a meeting with African drums; good albums both, but they marked the loss of Hemphill and the beginning of a rotating fourth chair, with Arthur Blythe, James Spaulding, Eric Person, John Purcell, and now Bruce Williams completing the quartet, often with a rhythm section added. And after albums paying tribute to Ellington and Miles Davis, the WSQ turns to a less likely source: Jimi Hendrix.
Experience is a rewarding, if uneven album. Some tracks feature the horns unaccompanied, others add a variety of guests. In addition to drummer Gene Lake and bassist Matthew Garrison, Craig Harris provides trombone, didgeridoo, and spoken word; and Billy Bang plays violin. The disc was recorded over three days in March 2003, with all but two of the tracks produced by the band. As a result, the album doesn't quite work as a piece, but the individual tracks still succeed.
Approaches wander from the sweet, naked singing familiar from the band's early days to simple settings for poetry to gently funky arrangements that would fit in on an old Stanley Turrentine record. Some of the choices were inevitable. They work over "Foxy Lady, do a soulful "If 6 Was 9 and an abstract "Hey Joe. But there's no "Purple Haze, no "Fire, no "Crosstown Traffic even the suggested titular track doesn't show up. Instead, they blast through "Freedom and make a bass clarinet ballad out of "Hear My Train A Comin'. Their best may be behind them, but they've still got the spirit.
Track Listing: Freedom; If 6 Was 9; Hey Joe; Machine Gun; Little Wing; Foxey Lady; Hear My Train a Comin'; The Wind Cries Mary
Personnel: Billy Bang (Violin); Hamiet Bluiett (Baritone Sax); Matthew Garrison (Bass Guitar); Craig Harris (Trombone, Didjeridu); Gene Lake (Drums); Oliver Lake (Alto Sax, Soprano Sax)