The World Saxophone Quartet has played countless times in the area since it was founded in 1976, but Friday night was the first time the all-reed foursome had played with any accompaniment. For its concert at the Barns of Wolf Trap, these four saxophonists -- among the best jazzmen in the world -- were joined by three Senegalese hand drummers. The results were mixed. At times the two groups seemed disconnected, as the Africans sat in the rear and sustained repeating rhythmic patterns while each American stood out front wailing on a free-form solo as his three mates shuffled in and out of the wings.
A few times, though, the two ensembles clicked, and the percussionists' polyrhythms grabbed hold of the horn players and gave them an extra momentum. This was especially true on Hamiet Bluiett's "Hattie Wall," the sax quartet's signature tune. Bluiett's baritone sax anchored the R&B riff stomped out by the horns and reinforced by the drums. Instead of each taking extended, individual solos, the saxmen started playing subtle but significant variations on the riff -- thus keeping the theme fresh without losing the rhythmic push. It built to a climactic tenor sax blowout by David Murray.
Most of the numbers came from the septet's new Elektra/Nonesuch album, "Metamorphosis." The title tune began with a long, lyrical alto sax solo by composer Arthur Blythe, and climaxed with a give-and-take duet between Bluiett and head drummer Mor Thiam. "Lullaby," written by Thiam and Oliver Lake, began with Lake's alto sax singing the beguiling melody and ended with Thiam's voice doing the same.