The World Saxophone Quartet isn't the only self-contained reed section in jazz, but as it proved at Blues Alley last night, it is one of the most gifted.
Each member of the ensemble endowed the music with a special talent. Julius Hemphill brought to it an exotic tone, both on flute and alto, and one of his compositions, featuring four softly and twining flutes, was particularly striking in its unusual color and construction. Hamiet Bluiett and David Murray, on baritone sax and bass flute, respectively, proved to be extremely adept at maintaining the music's often jauntily phrased beat--an essential task in a group of this sort. And Oliver Lake, no stranger to funk and free form and virtually everything in between, frequently incited the group's more cacophonous quarrels, which at one point grew so intense that Murray jokingly lowered his horn and called for a truce.
The music wasn't all heat, however. Swing, blues and classical refrains were often juxtaposed, and several lyrical solos, including a particularly soulful tune from Murray on tenor, were featured. More often than not, though, the real joy came in hearing the ensemble speak as one with precision and vitality.
The World Saxophone Quartet returns tonight.