At a time when a lot of new music sounds prefabricated, particularly pop and R&B, it's easy to understand why some people believe that artists are just going through the motions and not putting any feeling into them. However, anyone who feels that way about jazz hasn't heard the Woody Witt Quintet. The no-frills approach of Square Peg, Round Hole is most engaging.
A composer, performer and educator, Witt is a native of Omaha, Nebraska. He discovered his love for music when he was eight years old. Now based in Houston, Texas, Witt has performed with the Houston Symphony Exxon-Mobile Pops Series, backing such artists as Ray Charles, Kenny Rogers, and Tony Bennett. Witt has also judged at a number of regional jazz festivals, including those at the University of Houston, University of Texas, and McNeese State.
Witt released his first CD in 2002. His latest recording, with eight of nine tracks self-penned, sizzles from the first note. His musical expression is an example of why the tenor is perhaps the best member of the saxophone family as a lead or solo instrument. The baritone, alto, and soprano have their moments, but they don't hold a candle to the tenor for its emotional range.
The opening track, "Childlike, sets the stage with its lively rhythm. The song summons images of children on a playground; they may have an idea of what they want to play, but they make up a few of their own rules as they go. Trumpeter Randy Brecker takes point on the laid back "Song Without Words. On this, as well as the other tracks, pianist David Kikoski, drummer Art Hoenig, and bassist Johannes Weidenmueller keep the rhythm tight but also explore their own voices. They deviate from the structure just enough to give the feeling that they're improvising along with Brecker and Witt, but without becoming a distraction.
This is particularly evident on "Matching Game, an eleven-minute romp on the musical playground. Witt puts the tenor through some serious paces before giving way to Kikoski around the 3:40 mark. Brecker contributes his own solo before Hoenig sets up the energetic climax. One of the shorter selections is the lone Brecker composition, "Dirty Dogs, a happy-go-lucky song that again features Witt's tenor at its wailing best. This song, like much of the album, is a throwback to a time when the spirit of musicians playing just for the fun of it wasn't limited to live performances.
With a total running time of about 77 minutes, Square Peg, Round Hole is a jazz lover's dream. All nine songs are textbook examples of coloring outside the lines. Even the ballads show a great deal of the free-spiritedness that is evident in the more bubbly tracks. Witt, Brecker, and their sidemen deliver an album that exemplifies its title very well: a square peg of improvisation jamming its way into the round hole of contemporary recording.