World Saxophone Quartet

Metamorphosis

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Metamorphosis was both the first album released by the World Saxophone Quartet after the departure of Julius Hemphill (replaced by Arthur Blythe) and the first to incorporate additional musicians. Here, a trio of African percussionists augments the quartet, and electric bassist Melvin Gibbs also sits in on three cuts. It's an idea that works somewhat better in theory than practice. The WSQ had, after several stellar albums early on, begun to tread conceptual water, and Hemphill's abandonment dealt the group a serious blow with regard to both his instrumental ability and, more, his compositional prowess. Blythe, for all his obvious talents, couldn't quite replace Hemphill's wry, acerbic tone, a necessary counterweight to the relative smoothness of the other members. The percussionists are perfectly fine (and Mor Thiam contributes a lovely piece, "Lullaby"), but the relationship between the two ensembles sounds perfunctory and less than organic. Much of the disc sounds depressingly routine -- not bad, just the same sort of pieces they'd been doing for over a decade but performed with a bit less intensity, an iota less commitment than before. Aside from the aforementioned "Lullaby," only two of the Hamiet Bluiett pieces, "The Holy Men" and "Masai Warriors Dance," retain a good deal of the rawness and spunk that characterized early WSQ performances and recordings. Incidentally, the composition "Lo Chi Lo," credited to David Murray, is actually the late bassist Johnny Dyani's version of "Ntyilo Ntyilo." By their own high standards, Metamorphosis must have been a disappointment.

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