29th Street Saxophone Quartet

Underground

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A saxophone quartet tends to be an arranger's showcase, and that's certainly true of this one. That fact translates into music that often sounds kind of self-consciously difficult and may alienate audiences who aren't predisposed to deep listening. There's nothing dishonorable about that, but it does tend to be rather limiting. So if you think the straight quartet numbers like Bobby Watson's "In Case You Missed It" and Jim Hartog's "What Happened?" sound a bit too abstract, you're right. And if you react with an audible sigh of relief when a rhythm section and girl singer are added to the mix on the group's headlong romp through "Old Devil Moon," it doesn't mean you're shallow; it just means you're normal. It also means that these guys know what they're doing; they make you work for a few numbers, then give you a break, then get down to business again, in this case with "Manteca," a Dizzy Gillespie tune that sounds like it was arranged by Steve Reich. Toward the end, if you stick it out, there's a good-humored cover of the Isley Brothers classic "It's Your Thing" and another lovely vocal turn from Pamela Watson. This album takes some effort, but it's worth it.

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