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World Saxophone Quartet: Yes We Can

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This latest World Saxophone Quartet lineup features charter members David Murray on tenor sax and bass clarinet and Hamiet Bluiett on baritone sax and clarinet. New Orleans legend Kidd Jordan fills in for alto saxophonist Oliver Lake, while the newest WSQ member, James Carter, takes over duties for John Purcell, who in turn had replaced charter WSQ member Julius Hemphill, who died in 1995.

They open this live set at Kino Babylon, a movie theater in Berlin, with Bluiett’s energetic “Hattie Wall,” a tune that has, since 1981, acted as a kind of WSQ theme song. With Bluiett setting the groove with a bouncing bari ostinato, the others are freed up to weave a dizzying latticework pattern of darting, jagged lines on top. In this two-tenor onslaught, Murray and Carter can hardly be distinguished, especially when they launch into simultaneous altissimo flights. Jordan’s “The River Niger” opens with some conversational blowing that sounds like bees buzzing around the hive, until the four fall into a powerful theme anchored by Bluiett’s bari; Carter’s solo soprano cadenza is particularly stirring here. Murray’s title track, recorded just two months after President Obama’s inauguration, is a soulful fanfare brimming with optimism that highlights Carter’s uncanny virtuosity on soprano: just one of many horns that the Detroit native has mastered. Again, his dazzling cadenza at the end of the piece (containing a riff from “Hail to the Chief”) is an audacious crowd-pleaser.

Murray’s moving close-harmony ballad, “God of Pain,” carries of requiem feel and showcases his signature feat of intense circular breathing and overblowing during an extended unaccompanied tenor solo. Bluiett breaks out some impressive clarinet chops on his gospel-tinged meditation “The Guessing Game,” which has Murray providing accompaniment on bass clarinet. Carter employs his tenor to deliver a shrieking salvo of multiphonics on Murray’s “Long March to Freedom,” a potent piece that resolves to a hymnlike hush. The quartet closes out in furious fashion with a reprise of “Hattie Wall,” the perfect way to bookend this startling concert.

Originally Published