A New Edition of the World Saxophone Quartet at the Israel Festival
World Saxophone Quartet
Henry Crown Symphony Hall
May 27, 2006
The Israel Festival is the country's biggest such eventbut festival coordinators have not tried to introduce relevant jazz performances in recent years, so a concert by such a well-established outfit as the World Saxophone Quartet, performing a tribute to Jimi Hendrix, should have been cause for celebration. But the WSQ's first ever performance in Israel was marred by a series of faults.
The lineup of the quartet and guest musicians changed on almost a daily basis until the concert itself. Bruce Williams, who joined the WSQ for the recording of the Hendrix tribute (Experience, Justin Time, 2004), was replaced by Jorge Sylvester; founding member Oliver Lake was replaced at the last minute by the young, rising saxophonist Tony Kofi. Lake's son, drummer Gene Lake, was replaced by the young Lee Pearson.
Electric bassist Matthew Garrison was replaced by Jamaaladeen Tacuma, and violinist Billy Bang and trombonist Craig Harris, who were supposed to join this performance, cancelled their visit. The festival's publicity photos suggested that one former member of the WSQ, John Purcell, might again join the group. The musicians who did perform had to struggle througout the concert with a troubled sound system that boosted the performance of two founding WSQ members, David Murray and Hamiet Bluiett, and blurred the sound of the other players.
The World Saxophone Quartet, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary, is one of David Murray's projects. He was the main soloist, the organizer and the MC, even referring to the forthcoming WSQ release, Political Blues (Justin Time, 2006), as his own release. During this performance, Murray preferred to have as much fun as possible, in contrast to the serious attitude of investigation that enabled an exploration of the depth and sophistication of the Hendrix songs arranged for Experienceor what predominated during earlier performances of this tribute, such as the WSQ's excellent performances at the London Jazz Festival in November of last year.
The concert scarcely offered any new insights into the genius of Hendrix as a musician or a guitar player, but there were still many joyous moments. Bluiett, who now hardly lifts his baritone sax from its base, played in a very economical manner, but his wisdom, great sense of timing, originality and beautiful tone garnered a lot of applause. Murray, a regular visitor to jazz festivals in Israel, opened the concert with a dedication to the late great pianist John Hicks, who performed with Murray in Tel Aviv last year, and the local jazz educator Arnie Lawrence, who passed away last year, but was not on top of his form on that night.
A last-minute substitute, British saxophonist Tony Kofi, who has performed before with Murray, demonstrated a similar fiery passion on his brilliant solo on "Freedom," an articulation of a younger Murray, and was the revelation of this performance. Jorge Sylvester preferred to follow his written roles until the first encore, "Little Wing," where he delivered a captivating, lyrical solo.
The addition of Jamaaladeen Tacuma and Lee Pearson, who have joined the WSQ before in performances of the Hendrix tribute, pushed the WSQ into funkier realms. Tacuma produced steady, heavy grooves and Pearson, who mastered his playing with hip-hop acts such as Snoop Dogg and Lauryn Hill, turned out a crowd-pleaser when he performed during "If 6 were 9" with one stick on his headthen with his right hand behind his back, his left hand behind his back, and finally with both hands behind his back. Luckily he did not tried to replicate Hendrix's playing with his teeth. His childish enthusiasm replaced a much-needed sense of abstraction and modesty.
On the second encore Murray sang the title tune from the forthcoming album Political Blues, an angry protest against the current American regime. But somehow he hurried through the song, which openly smears the American president, vice president and secretary of state, without any introduction. Such an introduction might have been more than worthy and helpful for a public which still favors the current regime and enjoys this regime's support for its brutal occupation of Palestine.
This edition of the festival also offered a collaboration between Indian bansuri master Hariprasad Chaurasia and energetic tabla player Vijay Ghate with Israeli oudist Taiseer Elias and percussionist Zohar Fresco, who delighted the audience with a long and playful exchange of musical questions and answers. But these musical games turned out to be the focus of the concert, leaving me with a great need to hear a more solid and serious performance by Chaurasia.