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Saxophone quartets are a relatively infrequent phenomenon in jazz. Perhaps the last one to cause a stir was the Delta Saxophone Quartet whose albums Crimson! (Basho Records, 2016) and Bowie, Berlin & Beyond (FMR Records, 2018) offered new perspectives on the music of King Crimson and David Bowie respectively. But even the DSQ relied on occasional instrumental augmentation and on Crimson! this was supplied by virtuoso pianist Gwilym Simcock. With Q4's Uphill Struggle there is no such respite nor any familiar tunes to hum along to, since all the tracks here are originals. Half the tunes were composed by baritonist Tini Thomsen who was briefly a member of the later reincarnation of the renowned saxophone quartet Itchy Fingers. Thomsen, Björn Berger and Nigel Hitchcock actually appeared with Mike Mower in Itchy Fingers Reloaded at the World Saxophone Congress in 2015.
British saxophonist Hitchcock, an alumnus of the original Itchy Fingers, and composer of five of the tunes on the album, is an in-demand saxophonist who has accompanied or recorded with the likes of Ray Charles, Tom Jones, Joe Cocker and Jamiroquai. His colleagues on the recording all originally hail from Germany and are three of Europe's most experienced jazz saxophonists. Thomsen was inspired to write the lovely and instantly immersive opener "Glenroon" following a visit to the south coast of Ireland. "Horny Guys" sounds as jolly as its title. The slow-paced "Pappie Loop Toch Niet Zo Snel" has a doleful yet spiritual, bluesy quality and "Midi" benefits from a gripping vamp underpinned by the solid baritone.
"Uda Watte" and "Yata Watte" have less in common musically than their titles suggest (both are named after two types of Sri Lankan tea) . "Save Music" has a plaintive feel, with an ensemble melody from the three horns vying with the baritone, which regularly punctuates the piece with deep stabbing notes. Hitchcock's "Skye Blues," which he dedicated to the biggest island of the Scottish Inner Hebrides, is indeed a blues, replete with a soaring saxophone solo and punchy ending. The title track is breathtaking both for its brevity (less than 30 seconds) and the number of notes that can be crammed into that space of time. "Panda Gets Funky" begins conventionally enough but after 90 seconds is transformed by the deployment of electronically-enhanced saxophones, the better to invoke the funk. This highly inventive debut album from the newly-formed Q4 is an unequivocal winner.
Glenroon; Horny Guys; Pappie Loop Toch Niet Zo Snel; Midi; Uda Watte; The Hunt; Never Again; Uphill Struggle; Yata Watte; Save Music; Skye Blues; Panda Gets Funky.
Tini Thomsen: baritone saxophone; Nigel Hitchcock: alto saxophone; Fiete Flesch: alto and soprano saxophones; Björn Berger: tenor saxophone.