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Hamiet Bluiett: Blueblack

For BlueBlack, Hamiet Bluiett has assembled a network of contemporary sax, contrabass and bass-clarinet masters. The unit includes Patience Higgins and Alex Harding-strong, fierce players with solid reputations among musicians, but off the radar of mainstream audiences. While thematically the CD might seem like a World Saxophone Quartet or Howard Johnson tuba project knockoff, this low-note summit instead emerges as something wholly different and sonically intriguing. Whether they’re inverting “My Girl” into “(You’re Still) My Girl (In Spite of Everything)” through spirited intra-sax dialog, or rekindling memories of ’50s honking contests and bar-walking on “LG’s Place,” BlueBlack is a delightful excursion.

The disc jacket points out where each player can be heard in the mix, which enables those who desire to accurately and fully compare and contrast everything from tone to approach to tendencies among the players. Bluiett’s arguably the most stylish, especially on ballads, while James Carter displays his trademark ferocity and penchant for exaggeration. Higgins is the best straight blues and ballad player, while Harding’s the session wild card. Sometimes he simply adds his bass clarinet and baritone into the arrangement, while other times he’ll zip outside and offer some riveting high-note frivolity or low-note anchoring. Percussionist Kahil El’Zabar is the idea rhythm guy for this type of journey between freewheeling passion and authoritative, ethereal noodling. He’s not an intrusive or busy rhythm contributor; neither is trap drummer Lee Person. The duo provides just enough texture, color and pace to keep the songs from becoming merely reed showcases.

“Humpback,” one of five compositions by session arranger Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson, is a slowly building, stark trip into the baritone nether regions, with all four horns sounding somber, rumbling notes and mourning refrains. “LG’s Place,” “Zippin'” and “Gittin’ It Good” are celebratory vehicles with slashing, joyful solos, choruses and exchanges, while “Lamentation for JJ/Ballad for Babs” offers poignant tributes and “Angles” demonstrates the group’s proficiency with more complex works.

BlueBlack is a rousing, co-operative and sometimes combative session that’s equal parts mayhem and inspiration.

Originally Published