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Windmill Saxophone Quartet: A Touch of Evil

“Woodwind” quartet would be more accurate, since these fellows-Clayton Englar, Jesse Meman, Ken Plant and Tom Monroe-play not only all the saxophones but flutes, bass clarinet and even recorder as well. Formed in 1984, the virtuosic D.C.-based ensemble has released recordings in 1988, 1998 and now in 2003. But interestingly, all three albums were recorded in the same period between late 1987 and 1990. A Touch of Evil, from 1989, is the only one with guests. Pianist Ran Blake and conga player Alfredo Mojica sit in on Blake’s title piece; drummer Paul Murphy, bassist Ben Allison and pianist Frank Kimbrough assist in various configurations on some others.

The group’s music unabashedly avoids the ordinary. Indeed, straightahead moments are few and far between, with the focus placed instead on passionate explorations that combine some conventional elements-a paradelike drum pattern, a jaunty riff, a lyrical melodic line, for example-with free, often raw, elements-including squawks, squeaks, growls, chirps, hums, scale flurries and free-bop improvisatory excursions-to produce a thick and unique fabric. The five tracks, which include novel treatments of both a Mingus medley and a Coltrane tune, take up nearly an hour and 15 minutes, and the final one, subtitled “Free Improvisation, No Edits,” lasts for over half an hour.

Originally Published