Microscopic Septet

Off Beat Glory

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The Microscopic Septet's third album may not have differed too much in spirit from their first two and certainly covers no particularly new ground, but there's still a good deal of enjoyment in listening to these strange fellows go about their business. The off-kilter melodies tinged with noir, the tight, richly arranged horn lines, and, above all, the mischievous humor of the compositions are all still intact. Pieces like co-leader Phillip Johnston's "Baghdad Blues" are still apt to turn on a dime from a smoky torch song to a carousing, rhythmic dynamo. There is, perhaps, something of a drop-off in the level of manic enthusiasm that made their first release, Take the Z Train, so surprising and gripping; some of the tunes drag just a bit. On the other hand, this was the first recording to feature tenor saxophonist Paul Shapiro, who brought a wonderful robustness and soul to the band; he's featured on Johnston's delightful (and delightfully titled) "I Saw You in Utah (Idaho)," with its jaunty hoedown echoes. When it came to song titles, it was tough to surpass the Micros, and "By You, Do You Mean You or Me?," which closes out the album, is a fine encapsulation of what the band was about: A romantic, winsome opening theme on soprano merging into a raucous rhythm & blues stomper, with baritone player Dave Sewelson on top roaring while the band layers riff after inspired riff behind him and eventually lapses into a gorgeous dirge. Off Beat Glory isn't the best of the four records they released, but it contains more than enough special moments to make it well-worth the purchase.

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