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World Saxophone Quartet: Political Blues

Just in time for the midterm elections, the World Saxophone Quartet has issued jazz’s sharpest rebuke yet to the Bush administration and its handling of everything from the war in Iraq to the hurricane in New Orleans. Yet the music is anything but downcast. On the contrary, Political Blues is a house party wrapped in political opinion.

The World Saxophone Quartet has evolved a bit since forming in 1977. Three of the four founders-Oliver Lake, Hamiet Bluiett and David Murray-are still with the band (Julius Hemphill died in 1995), but on this record the “quartet” is more like an octet. Twelve musicians play on this album, and as many as nine perform on any one song. The music is WSQ at its most accessible. There are jazz-funk jams, hard-swinging blues, syncopated rhythms, catchy melodies and, on half the tunes, vocals-lyrics aimed squarely at Dubya and his deputies. “I’m gonna drive to Florida and Ohio to find out how they cheated Kerry and Gore,” Murray pledges on the title track. “King George, your President, is golfing on the day after the catastrophe,” Bruce Williams declares in the spoken-word diatribe of “Spy On Me Blues.”

For all the polemics, it’s the music that sustains this effort. The horns-which are rounded out by saxophonist Jaleel Shaw and trombonist/arranger Craig Harris-play with stunning force; the solos scorch against a wondrous chorus of horns. Electric bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma lays down infectious grooves, while drummer Lee Pearson’s rhythm invention keeps the party moving. And what a treat to hear the group-with the iconoclastic James “Blood” Ulmer supplying guitar and vocals-tackle Muddy Waters’ “Mannish Boy” (a sly reference to Bush, perhaps?). Political disillusionment hasn’t been this much fun since Charles Mingus and Sun Ra were writing songs about nuclear arms.

Originally Published