Charles Papasoff

International Baritone Conspiracy

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Canadian baritone saxophonist Charles Papasoff has, with this recording, pulled off the heretofore unimaginable: pulled together a sextet comprised strictly of baritone players from Europe and North America and commissioned each member to bring some new chart to the table that would showcase the seemingly limitless range of expression the baritone holds -- which goes against the historical jazz grain where the horn has been either ignored or relegated to the background shadows of a bandstand with very few exceptions. This conspiracy -- of a group working in concert with one another -- was indeed performed that way at the Victoriaville Festival in 1995. The set starts off with two Papasoff contributions, one the long intro to "Mouvements," which consists of five sections: a solo, ensemble rhythmic workout, a harmonically diverse ballad section, a seemingly improvised swing workout, and then a closing theme -- all of which are Ellingtonian in their magnanimous musicality. Next is Christian Gavillet's "Verdi," an extrapolation of various themes by the late Italian composer. But this is no neo-classicist foray for baritone saxophonists. This is a dark, shadowy realm where tonalities and polyphonal calls and responses are woven into a fabric that suggests unbroken lines of minor-key elegance and grace that is nearly operatic before it breaks into a funky roar. The most tantalizing and delicious thing here, however, is Hamiett Bluiett and Papasoff's re-arrangement of Charles Mingus' "Pithecanthropus Erectus." Here the baritone choir stomps, swings, and shouts its way into jazz heaven. Bluiett's contribution is the orchestral feel of the piece, sounding more like the Mingus big band than a saxophone choir approaching the gospel-tinged theme, and Papasoff's is in his modulation of the sextet in such a way that the entire composition is covered harmonically from the first bar. This is beauty that is almost unbearable in its intensity and guttural raw swinging glory.

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