World Saxophone Quartet | Political Blues

Justin Time • JUST 221-2 • worldsaxophonequartet

I am not in favour of having a star-rating system here at The Live Music Report for many reasons yet, I will say that if we had one I would give Political Blues 5 stars (out of five). This CD should become a classic, an historical marker for the music itself as much as anything.

This is political music at its best, incredible music and effective words. Despite it’s hard-hitting message it’s a lot of fun! Is that sacrilege? Maybe it’s a good way to get our attention. It’s a cutting condemnation of the Bush administration and its actions or lack thereof during the Katrina catastrophe and of racist politics. It’s a mockery and a release, a powerful protest of irrepressible buoyancy and resilience, laughing at the face of absurdity in the tradition of Charles Mingus’ “Fables of Faubus”. I can imagine Oliver Lake responding to Mingus’ “Name me someone that’s ridiculous” with “King George!, Bush, that is”.

The music is thick, juicy and complex throughout with lots of fabulous free-spirited solos, super-funk bass, a strong base in the blues and New Orleans brought forward to today — improvisational craziness with a strong, unifying rhythm. The whole is bold, free and creative. There are lots of ‘guests’ including James Blood Ulmer. The Muddy Waters tune that features him, “Mannish Boy” is a truly original take on a classic. With Ulmer’s voice and guitar, amazing horns and the heavy drumming style of Lee Pearson this will appeal to rock and hard core blues fans as well as jazz lovers.

On the first tune, “Political Blues”, David Murray’s singing reminds me somewhat of Ray Anderson. “Hal’s Blues” is lowdown slow. “Let’s Have Some Fun” is sort of Afro-Latin-Funk and sure is fun. Some of the sax harmonies here make me think of the Cuban band Habana Sax. “Amazin’ Disgrace” starts with Carolyn Amba Hawthorn making a strong statement acappella. She has all the vocal power of an Etta James. When the saxophones make their entry accompanied by the rhythm section, they are surprisingly mellow and softly harmonic. As the piece continues there is a strong interplay between saxophone and voice. The saxophones grow wilder and wilder. And what is that trombone doing? Great stuff.

“Bluocracy” is a three-part ‘suite’ beginning with voice over didgeridoo speaking against going back to the basics “for the integrity of the culture”, stating “tradition is about skilful transition”. It is an artistic protest against the constraining effect of neo-conservative musicians. “Blue Diamond” features a tight and funky Marcus Miller-style bass from Jamaaladeen Tacuma. “Harlem” is beautiful and impressive, heavily featuring Craig Harris on trombone and Bluiett on baritone.

The final piece, “Spy On Me” makes the strongest anti-Bush, anti-U.S. government statement but only after four minutes of hard swinging instrumental jazz/blues. “Nawlins 05. We need help! We need help! Help is on the way. Oops — government didn’t request help”. Again, Charles Mingus and the absurd. A more contemporary example? Something I heard the Art Ensemble of Chicago do at last year’s Guelph Jazz Festival, a reading of a “statement” from the vegetation of the USA asking that it be made clear that they are not in any way related to this 'George' Bush they have been hearing about and that, in fact, he is not a 'bush' at all or any other type of vegetation and that they wish to be completely disassociated from him, he is giving them all a bad name.

report by Joyce Corbett August 2006

Bluiett – baritone sax
Oliver Lake – alto and soprano sax, vocals on track 11
David Murray – tenor sax & bass clarinet, vocals on track 1
Jamaaladeen Tacuma – electric bass
Bruce Williams – alto and soprano sax, tracks 4 and 11
Craig Harris – trombone & didgeridoo
Lee Pearson – drums
James Blood Ulmer – guitar/vocals, track 3
Jeremy Pelt – trumpet, track 1
Carolyn Amba Hawthorne – vocals, track 5
Jaleel Shaw – alto & soprano sax
Hervé Samb – guitar, track 1
Track listing
Political Blues 2. Hal's Blues 3. Mannish Boy 4. Let's Have Some Fun
5. Amazin' Disgrace 6. / 7. / 8. Bluocracy parts 1, 2 and 3
9. Blue Diamond 10. Harlem 11. Spy On Me Blues
We welcome your comments and feedback
Joyce Corbett
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