A veteran of over three decades of jazz history, Bluiett has long been jazz's leading proponent of the baritone saxophone. His well-documented experience in the World Saxophone Quartet, as well as the baritone quartet Baritone Saxophone Nation, long ago established him as a superlative composer, arranger, and improviser. Two recent trio records with BJT (Bluiett/Jackson/Thiam) presented Bluiett in a more playful context, tending toward a lighter, riffy, contrapunctal sound.
With Eyes Wide Open establishes a new nom de plume for the baritone player, who now uses his last name only. But this quartet record clearly belongs in the BJT continuum, exploring African and Caribbean rhythms and opening up improvisational space. Six of the eight tunes on this disc are Bluiett compositions; the remaining two were penned by his previous associate, the late pianist Don Pullen. Bluiett's signature sound on the baritone sax spans the full range of his instrument, from deep and throaty to whistly and piercing. He also operates in a broad range of styles, from straightforward hard bop to calypso to full-on "out" improvisation. No matter what pitch or style he chooses, Bluiett always manages to convey a warm, expressive sound. His fellow bandmates on this date include guitarist Ed Cherry, who plays flawlessly if a bit unimaginatively; bassist Jaribu Shahid, who effectively grounds the group and helps hold things together; and drummer Nasheet Waits, who demonstrates a remarkable versatility in conveying specific rhythmic feels.
With Eyes Wide Open, like pretty much any Bluiett recording, has the breadth and depth to keep the listener engaged. Bluiett's improvisations display warmth, virtuosity, and maturity. However, the level of group interaction that distinguishes great recordings from good recordings just isn't there on With Eyes Wide Open. There are so many great records out with Bluiett that it's hardly fair to hold anything new to such a high standard, but I would recommend one of the recent WSQ records, or the more playful BJT records, instead.
Personnel: Bluiett: baritone saxophone; Nasheet Waits: drums; Jaribu Shahid: bass; Ed Cherry: guitar.