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The saxophone quartet is a curious beast. From the improv-chamber intricacies of Rova to the blustering swagger of Hamiet Bluiett’s baritone gang, the possibilities of such an instrumentation seem limitless. The Pink Noise Saxophone Quartet’s m.o. is closer to the latter, forgoing potential compositional complexity for joyfully barreling momentum, though the fruits of their labors remain completely distinctive and their own.
Leader Tim Otto is a compelling and clever composer whose melodies stand on their own bereft of his group’s riotous front line. The tunes on The Jig Is Up could certainly be performed to great effect by a group as small as one saxophone and rhythm section. So the infectious results come as no great surprise when Otto’s skillful arrangements meet the formidable talents of saxophonists Peck Almond, Michael Blake, Andy Laster, and Briggan Krauss, who fills in for the absent Blake on half of the tracks (technically Almond fills in for Blake while Krauss covers for the relocated-to-tenor Almond). Top it off with a sympathetic rhythm section in bassist Dom Richards and drummer Aaron Alexander and you have a nothing short of slamming juggernaut of a band.
The Jig Is Up could easily be read as a checklist for the myriad influences that bleed into what passes for the "downtown" scene these days, veering from off-kilter funk ("Box Bump") to a breakneck Middle Eastern romp ("Pass the Cous Cous") to a boisterous street march ("Fish Eats Dog") in just the first three tracks. And despite the dense arrangements, brimming with ideas but never feeling cluttered, the players are given ample opportunity to cut loose and blow, ripping off fiery solos and erupting into loopy bursts of free-jazz with gleeful abandon. Deserving of special mention is altoist Krauss, who continues to amaze with his seamless integration of ferocious technique and a mind-boggling lexicon of mutterings, shrieks, and completely unclassifiable utterances.
Pink Noise has accomplished an admirable task on The Jig Is Up , bringing together a dangerous cadre of players to deftly tread the line between forward-thinking jazz act and house-rocking party band. For the adventurous jazz fan who has a head to bob or a rump to shake, I would maintain that the jig is, in fact, just getting started.
Track Listing: Box Bump (5:08), Pass the Cous Cous (9:19), Fish Eats Dog (4:32), Hornhead (5:17), June (5:30), Romance in Underpants (7:40), Twelve (3:21), Bonepipe Blues (5:20).
Personnel: Tim Otto - soprano and tenor saxophones; Peck Almond - alto and tenor saxophones; Michael Blake - tenor saxophone (4,6,7,8); Andy Laster - baritone saxophone; Briggan Krauss - alto saxophone (1,2,3,5); Dom Richards - bass; Aaron Alexander - drums.