World Saxophone Quartet

Steppenwolf

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Soldiering on after the death of Julius Hemphill, the World Saxophone Quartet retains its fabulously rich palette, now filled out by the remarkable John Purcell on soprano sax and clarinet. This engaging album, their sixth for the Canadian label Justin Time, was recorded at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theater in early 1999. It features compositions from all the group's members, along with compelling renditions of "Giant Steps" and Taj Mahal's "Sunrise (Brazilian Sunshine)" arranged by Hamiet Bluiett and David Murray, respectively. Following Murray's "The Crossing," with its intricate harmonies and subtle groove, the quartet tackles Purcell's "Li'l Poki," an ambitious work dedicated to his ancestor, Pocahantas. Each WSQ member, taking on a prescribed role in this historical epic, makes an unaccompanied statement during the course of the piece. (Purcell spells out the roles in his spoken introduction.) Bluiett's "Color for Duke" also contains unaccompanied passages and highlights the glow the WSQ can achieve on a lushly harmonized ballad. Purcell's "Toré," a mesmerizing portrait of the northern lights as seen from Sweden, is followed by Oliver Lake's "What If," a wailing workout that finds the composer reciting original poetry. Bluiett's "Hattie Wall," the WSQ theme song, concludes the program with boogying showmanship. Recommended.

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