Picks and Pans Review: Live at Brooklyn Academy of Music

updated 02/23/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/23/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

World Saxophone Quartet

If Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Dominique Wilkins got together to play half court during breaks in the NBA schedule, basketball fans might want to be there. When Julius Hemphill, Oliver Lake, David Murray and Hamiet Bluiett carve time away from their other bands to play together as the World Saxophone Quartet, it is a comparable event in progressive jazz. Playing on soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxophones (and sometimes alto and bass clarinets) without additional accompaniment, the four musicians create a world of harmony, melody and sound texture that is surprisingly varied and self-sufficient. Dividing their resources, they suspend blurring harmonies over infectious and complex rhythm patterns. From these aural trampolines adventurous solos spring. The group's propensity for dissonance and animal intensity (on baritone the awesome Bluiett can bellow like a stampeding elephant) delights its fans but has probably kept the WSQ from reaching a wider audience. Plays Duke Ellington solves that problem by providing a familiar, beautiful and at the same time challenging structure for the group's escapades. The WSQ has never played prettier harmony than in Sophisticated Lady, In a Sentimental Mood, Come Sunday and Billy Strayhorn's Lush Life. Their arrangement of I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart is acrobatic and ingenious, with a crazily bristling main section culminating in a moment of silence followed by a merry rendition of the theme. The interpretations are idiosyncratic and modern throughout, but faithful enough to please even the most hidebound Ellingtonian. For a taste of the group playing their own freewheeling compositions and all their instruments (they use only alto, tenor and baritone on Ellington) try Live at Brooklyn Academy of Music. It's better recorded and more accessible than their earlier albums yet loaded with musical slam dunks and behind-the-back passes. (Ellington, Nonesuch; Live, Black Saint)

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