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Microscopic Septet : Seven Men in Neckties: The History of the Micros Vol. 1

Acquire this two-volume, four-disc set and you’ll not only own much of the recorded output of the Microscopic Septet (a.k.a. the Micros), you’ll also travel back to a time in New York’s “downtown” history when the band played haunts like the Ear Inn, the Dive, the Peppermint Lounge, Studio Henry and the recently shuttered CBGB. Co-led by soprano saxophonist Phillip Johnston and pianist Joel Forrester, the Micros-with four saxes plus rhythm-brought strong playing and impeccable craftsmanship to the table, even as they shattered stylistic boundaries and proved that art music could be infectiously fun.

“[At] the time, some people were very weirded out by our kidding around in the music,” writes Johnston in his notes to Volume One, titled Seven Men in Neckties. Of course, the Micros didn’t kid around in a vacuum. Groups like the Jazz Passengers and the Lounge Lizards also did their parts, but the Microscopic Septet stood out with its unique synthesis of swing, bop, tango, cha-cha-cha, jump blues, boogie and heaven knows what else, all refracted through an ’80s avant-garde prism. They achieved modest mainstream success, emerging from neighborhood bars to play the Blue Note, the Village Gate and the JVC Jazz Festival. And they set a tone of high camp that one still finds in the work of Gutbucket, Sex Mob and the Millennial Territory Orchestra.

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