Picks and Pans Review: Revue

updated 03/21/1983 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/21/1983 01:00AM

The World Saxophone Quartet

The tuxedos they wear in concert make this unique and sonorous group look like an Afro-American version of a classic European string quartet. The visual parallel is not unintended. As Oliver Lake, who plays soprano, alto and tenor saxophones, says, "We are curators of the black vocal tradition, from the blues to the Four Tops." The group's personnel—Lake, David Murray on tenor sax and bass clarinet, Julius Hemphill on alto and tenor sax and Hamiet Bluiett on baritone sax and alto clarinet—are among the most esteemed musicians in the jazz avant-garde, but their often labyrinthine improvisations arise from a desire for continuity with the past. Just as the classical string quartet is a monument to the possibilities of strings, so this quartet glorifies the "voice" of the saxophone. In the hands of these musicians, it is a voice, at times wild and preliterate, at times almost grandparentally comforting. Indeed, the unaccompanied foursome swing more powerfully and harmonize more soulfully in this album than in any of their previous three. From the soaring goose that is Lake's soprano to Bluiett's boisterous baritone, World Sax strips away the complexities of piano, bass, drums, et al. and fills the ear with the intimate sound of reeds.

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