Friday, April 9, 2010

The World Saxophone Quartet Does Miles

It would be hard to love modern jazz if you didn't love hearing the saxophone.  It dominates the music in a way that no other instrument does.  That is not to say that it is the single most common instrument.  That would probably be the bass or drums.  But the sax in one form or another (usually, the tenor) gets star billing most of the time. 

Glancing at my list of top ten jazz albums, only one of them (Bill Evans Sunday at the Village Vanguard) is saxless.  Even (or especially) when the leader is a piano player, the sax is usually given a prominent role.  I think if you threw a dart at a list of top jazz artists in the modern period, you would likely hit someone with that brass inverted question mark in his hands. 

Of course part of that is that the horn is louder than damn near anything else.  But it surely more than that.  The sax just naturally communicates that jazz feeling more than any other instrument.  I have been listening tonight to the World Saxophone Quartet's Selim Sivad: A Tribute to Miles Davis.  The avant guard group was formed in 1977 by Julius Hemphill, David Murray, Hamiet Blueitt, and Oliver Lake.  On the Davis tribute, John Purcell replaces Hemphill.  If you want to go out with an overdose of sax, this is your medicine. 

It is a very interesting kind of tribute.  All of the tunes are presented as covers of Davis numbers, but the WSQ chose to honor Davis in the best way: not by imitation but by innovation.  I am guessing Miles would have wanted it that way.  There is a lot of African song here: percussive Bush music and bird tweets.  If you have at least an occasional urge for avant garde world music, you like this one. 

Here is a bit of comparison to give you an idea of the idea of the album.  First, a brief slice from Kind of Blue.  This is just the beginning of the number, to give you a point of reference.
Miles Davis/Blue in Green/Kind of Blue
Now here is the cover from the WSQ recording:
World Saxophone Quartet/Blue in Green/Selim Sivad: A Tribute to Miles Davis
Viva la difference!  This might be the most recognizable cover on the album.  The range of music on this disc is amazing.  It can be found at eMusic for a handful of credits.  Give it a shot. 

Here is a video clip of the WSQ in 2006. 


  1. Ken
    The WSQ does amazing justice to this great composition and I want to thank you for continuing to uncovering gems from the great players that we do not hear enough of. As myself being saxophonist your posts have inspired me to take better listens at the more avante garde side and I already can feel the impression of this on my creativity..


  2. Marc: I didn't notice your comment until tonight. Thank you very much for the kind words. I am a prospector, and I am very gratified when I find a nugget that is valued by others.

    Yes, the WSQ does some wonderful things on that album. I envy anyone who can play any kind of sax. If I have indeed inspired your creativity, this blog is doing its work.