World Saxophone Quartet: Sweet D
World Saxophone Quartet
Dances and Ballads (Elektra/Nonesuch 9 79164-1)
Composed by Julius Hemphill.
Recorded: New York, April 1987
Rating: 91/100 (learn more)
The World Saxophone Quartet's brief association with Elektra/Nonesuch in the late 1980s resulted in some the group's most polished work, not the least attractive of which is Dances and Ballads, the album from whence this track comes. The record's title is descriptive of its content: all the tunes are either groove- or ballad-oriented, in varying degrees. "Sweet D" belongs to the dance half of that musical dyad.
Written by the late Julius Hemphill—arguably the group's most ambitious composer—the tune is built on oddly syncopated vamps played by the tenor and bari. Over this, the altos blow a long, abstract and funky harmonized melody, which leads into a collective improvisation. The WSQ's ability to sustain defined individual ensemble roles in the transition from a composed to an improvised section is why such extemporaneous episodes maintain as much coherence as they do. Bari saxophonist Hamiet Bluiett is especially adept at this. He eases gradually into the improvisation; his part morphs into something that maintains the character of the composed bassline, yet never strays so far from the groove that the feel is lost. Tenor saxophonist David Murray bends the funk without breaking it, as well, while the altos venture farther afield in terms of rhythm and melody.
The sound quality has a rather remote air, as if the microphones were set up some distance from the horns. This helps give it a sonic gloss somewhat characteristic of a classical recording, which complements the band's roughly hewn aesthetic surprisingly well. Here, as with most of the original World Saxophone Quartet's oeuvre, the amalgam of intellect and earthiness results in superb music.
Reviewer: Chris Kelsey