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The New York Saxophone Quartet: Urbanology

In his liner notes for Urbanology, Phil Woods, who knows a thing or two about cordon bleu cooking, asks: “Who needs a rhythm section?” It’s certainly not the New York Saxophone Quartet. Indeed, whether marinating Monk or Strayhorn, the NYSQ serves up savory dishes that should please even the most demanding tastes.

Building on a legacy now 40 years old, this edition of the NYSQ- soprano saxophonist Dennis Anderson, altoist Ralph Olsen, tenorman Ken Hitchcock and bari-man Al Hunt-is an exemplar of the genre. With a thorough grounding in classical music, the ensemble blends possess the kind of ESPlike synergy that marked the best of Basie’s sonorous sax sections. In Bob Mintzer’s “Quartet #1 in Three Movements,” a wonderful addition to the repertory, everything gets nailed. And how nice to have music and players sensitive to the dramaturgy of dynamics. And, yes, these guys can solo. In contrast to most classical saxophonists, whose attempts at jazz are stiffer than a #5 Rico Royal, Anderson, Olsen, Hitchcock and Hunt soar.

Again, to cite Woods, the NYSQ plays with “a truly American pulse, loose as a goose but also in the pocket.” Woods’ “Dear Head Sketches,” Frank Perowsky’s “Victor Young Medley” and Paquito D’Rivera’s “Wapango” and “Elegy to Eric Dolphy” make the point. So, too, do Billy Kerr’s evocative charting of “Lush Life” and Dan Block’s wondrous reframing of “Epistrophy,” “Monk’s Mood,” and “Bye-ya.”

Dedicated to NYSQ founder Ray Bechenstein, this labor of love and artistry delights and amazes. Tickling the toes as well as dazzling the ear, Urbanology is a triumph of inspired collaboration, a seamless amalgam of great playing and great writing.

Originally Published