New York Saxophone Quartet

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Urbanology Review

by Ken Dryden

Although there have been relatively few unaccompanied saxophone quartets in jazz (the best known are the World Saxophone Quartet and the now-disbanded 29th Street Saxophone Quartet), this group was founded in 1959 and though it has recorded infrequently, it is one of the best around. With Dennis Anderson on soprano, Ken Hitchcock on tenor, Ralph Olsen on alto, and Al Hunt on baritone, the group devotes the entire release to the music of contemporary New York composers and arrangers. All four musicians are superb talents deserving of wider recognition. The material throughout the CD is first-rate as well. Dan Block's suite of three works by Thelonious Monk is very creative, especially "Bye-ya." Billy Kerr's haunting introduction to Billy Strayhorn's "Lush Life" adds an entire new dimension to this bittersweet ballad. Bob Mintzer, known as a big-band leader and for his work with the smooth jazz group the Yellowjackets, contributed the intriguing "Quartet #1 in Three Movements." Following a bouncing merry-go-round introduction, the middle section is almost dirge-like. The finale is a tantalizing jig. Paquito D'Rivera contributed the tasty miniature "Wapango," a playful work; he also wrote the dreamy "Elegy to Eric Dolphy," a feature for Olsen that captures the spirit of the late multi-instrumentalist, who died at the age of just 36. Liner note writer Phil Woods, who previously wrote for the NYSQ, penned the three-part "Deer Head Sketches." "The Bandstand" incorporates a number of familiar bop themes, while "The Front Porch" is a beautiful reflective ballad. "The Kitchen" is aptly named, for if a jazz musician can't handle this the heat from this tricky chart, he should find another line of work. This first-rate release will please fans of saxophone quartets especially; but all jazz fans need to give it a listen. Highly recommended.

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