Saturday, August 26, 2006

World Saxophone Quartet - Political Blues (Justin Time, 2006)

This is a sprawling, unruly record from the WSQ, adding guests to the fray like guitarist James "Blood" Ulmer and various vocalists to comment on the current American political climate, particularly the poor response of the government to Hurricane Katrina. "Spy On Me Blues" in particular is a spoken word commentary on the reaction to Hurricane Kartina and its aftermath. The "Blutocracy" suite has Bluiett mocking the supposed conservatism of Wynton Marsalis and other traditionalist jazz musicians, comparing them slaves, minstrels and Uncle Toms. "Amazing Disgrace" bemoans the mistreatment of African-Americans with a female vocalist updating the gospel standard. "Harlem" and "Hal's Blues" swing nicely with tight unison playing sans vocals or commentary.

For all of the commentary on the disc, the best song hands down is the Muddy Waters standard "Mannish Boy" with James Blood Ulmer guesting. There is no political agenda here, just downhome gutbucket blues. Everybody sounds like they are having a blast, with Blood singing the chest thumping lyrics in his unique mush-mouthed manner as the horns testify behind him. Getting back into the theme, "Political Blues" sets a groove with hard popping electric bass before the horns come in swinging in unison and then fly off like planes in formation for solos and vocals about the New Orleans disaster. The lyrics, however, are a little clunky and forced. Their sentiment is honorable, but they just don't flow that smoothly. Desipte a few pitfalls, the groups anger fuels some spirited playing, making this album recommended for their fans or political allies. The WSQ has been around for over 25 years, but they are certainly not mellowing with age.

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