World Saxophone Quartet: Political Blues (2006)
Bare is the operational word here. There are seldom records like this onefor better or worse, perhaps, but few so plain and downright angry. The WSQ discography is renowned for its idiosyncrasies, and the group here assembled is hardly the crowd to stay pegged in place. Here, amidst the melee, are the three surviving members of the original WSQ, perhaps the only group to fully apprehend the dimensions of the all-saxophone format and never, together or alone, withering violets. But there's also something different. It took the combined forces of racism, political conservatism, war, economic downturn, and unprecedented economic disaster to turn the joie de vivre of the WSQ sound into something altogether more menacing and, at times, shockingly unchecked.
This is not the kind of finely hewn, delicately crafted album that the WSQ is known for, although the arrangements are certainly together and the playing as potent as ever. This is a full-group recording, the classic, multi-tiered saxophone voicings occupying a subsidiary role among the measured fury of the ensembles. Rough backbeats and spindly, vertiginous bass lines are interspersed with declamations of frustration, raging at life, America, and, at the root, the somber fecklessness of revolt.
This revolt, though, is somewhat vaguer than one might imagine. Far more than the decisively incendiary lyrics, it is the sheer plangency of the horns, groping at registers, notes, and expressions out of reachindeed, a freedom beyond the scope of the compositionsthat creates the more effective moments. There is exhaustion here, tempered only by a total reluctance to surrender. Even without the abstraction, this is "fire music in full effect: Black, American and pissed.
Many musicians have tried, but few have achieved so devastating and honest a picture of the American struggle in the 21st Century. If it is not the most artful statement of political conscience that modern jazz can deliver, than Political Blues is at least a study in how the jazz musician can feeland, if not escape "the blues," then at least fight from within.
Track Listing: Political Blues; Hal's Blues; Mannish Boy; Let's Have Some Fun; Amazin' Disgrace; Bluocracy Pt. I; Bluocracy Pt. II; Bluocracy Pt. III; Blue Diamond; Harlem; Spy On Me Blues.
Personnel: Bluiett: baritone saxophone; Oliver Lake: alto and soprano saxophone (vocals on 11); David Murray: tenor saxophone, bass clarinet (vocals on 1); Jamaaladeen Tacuma: electric bass; Bruce Williams: alto and soprano saxophone (4, 11); Craig Harris: trombone, didjeridoo (vocals on6); Lee Pearson: drums; James "Blood" Ulmer: guitar, vocals (3); Jeremy Pelt: trumpet (1); Carolyn Amba Hawthorne: vocals (5); Jaleel Shaw: alto and soprano saxophone; Herve Samb: guitar (1).
Record Label: Justin Time Records
Style: Modern Jazz