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Bluiett: With Eyes Wide Open

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There haven’t been many more aggressive, demonstrative baritone saxophonists in recent jazz history than Hamiet Bluiett. He dominates in the bottom register, playing with a fury and command that becomes even more evident when he moves into the upper register then returns with ease to the baritone’s lowest reaches. Bluiett’s participated in so many seminal sessions and concerts since his emergence in one of the last great Charles Mingus units in 1972 that at this point it’s easy to wonder what more could be forthcoming. Fortunately, Bluiett’s neither taken a powder nor stayed dependent on World Saxophone Quartet gigs for recording exposure. His latest entry, With Eyes Wide Open, under the singular name Bluiett, features the saxophonist’s quartet exploring nine tunes, most of which he composed. Some, like the opening number, “Africa/Island Song,” or “Enum,” are delightful, spry works that nicely frame his explosively thrusting, weaving and darting baritone statements, while also allowing guitarist Ed Cherry to zip in, out or around the rhythms created by bassist Jaribu Shahid and drummer Nasheet Waits.

Others, like the tribute piece “Monk & Wes,” or “1529 Gunn Street,” are more evocative, thoughtful outings in which Blueitt takes more time to set the mood and embellish the theme. He’s no less effective on these, but there’s less bombast and fury, and more understatement and melodic expressiveness. The other quartet members also sound more restrained, especially Cherry, who sometimes cranks out one too many Blood Ulmer-style phrases.

Perhaps the CD’s most moving piece is the group’s rendition of pianist/composer Don Pullen’s “Sing Me a Song Everlasting.” Bluiett’s playing on this number is masterful and beautiful.

With Eyes Wide Open features dynamic group interaction and offers marvelous, dynamic baritone saxophone solos from arguably the best contemporary player on the instrument.