“The forward-jazz interpretations of Hendrix’s beloved songbook feel like a natural evolution, a long-overdue fruition, a homecoming. These players get what Hendrix was about.” —SF Weekly
With all the searing intensity of Jimi Hendrix himself, the World Saxophone Quartet pays blistering homage to this ’60s guitar master in a night that’s pure Hendrix (sans flaming instruments) on Saturday, March 10, at 7 and 9:30 pm, in the Walker Art Center’s William and Nadine McGuire Theater. Hailed as “the most original and important group to emerge since Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, and John Coltrane redefined group improvisation in the late 1950s” (New York Times), this venerable quartet features David Murray, Oliver Lake, Hamiet Bluiett, and Greg Osby, joined by the celebrated Jamaaladeen Tacuma (electric bass), and Lee Pearson (drums). They approach Hendrix’s music with both “reverence and a sense of adventure” (Jazz Times), qualifying this as an evening of unforgettable jazz. Copresented with Northrop Jazz Season.
Originally consisting of saxophonists Murray, Julius Hemphill, Lake, and Bluiett, the World Saxophone Quartet is one of the finest and most unusual small combos in jazz today. The Quartet began performing as a unit in 1976, inspired by Ed Jordan, head of Music at New Orleans Southern University. Jordan had heard the saxophonists in their individual groups, and hired them to do a show together. “We liked it, and started doing gigs at other colleges,” remembers David Murray. Since then, the group has recorded many albums together, including the critically acclaimed Plays Duke Ellington (Nonesuch), which was voted one of the best albums of 1986 in the New York Times.
The WSQ places consistently in the top five groups listed in Down Beat‘s Annual Critic’s Poll. In 1987 they were voted “Best Jazz Group” in the Playboy Reader’s Poll. Television appearances include two segments on VH-1’s New Visions program and an appearance on NBC’s Night Music. The WSQ, heralded for a repertoire that is exclusively theirs, has toured extensively throughout the U.S., Europe, and Japan, where the ensemble enjoyed major success as part of the Live Under the Sky Festival. The group’s Dances and Ballads and Rhythm and Blues received critical acclaim, and its signature tune, Hattie Wall, is also a video, directed by Robert Longo. In 1990 Hemphill left the group and was replaced first by Arthur Blythe, then James Spaulding, and later Eric Person.
Hamiet Bluiett (baritone sax, alto clarinet), the most highly regarded baritone saxophonist to emerge in the 1970s and beyond, has superb command of his instrument in every register. He acknowledges the dramatic impact of hearing Ellington baritone saxophonist Harry Carney at a gig in Boston years ago. In addition to his association with the St. Louis Black Artists Group, Bluiett’s credits include work with the Gateway Symphony, Charles Mingus, Sam Rivers, Babatunde Olatunji, Stevie Wonder, and Marvin Gaye.
Oliver Lake (alto and soprano saxes, flute, synthesizer) grew up in St. Louis and received professional encouragement from trumpeter Lester Bowie. A founding member of the St. Louis Black Artists Group, he moved to New York in 1976 after teaching at the American Centre for Artists and Students in Paris and studying at the Electronic Workshop. He leads his own funk-reggae group Jump Up, as well as a jazz quartet. Lake has been a consistently outstanding soloist, composer and bandleader since the early 1970s, and is also a published poet.
Post-bop saxophonist Greg Osby was born April 3, 1960, in St. Louis and played in a series of R&B, funk, and blues units throughout his teen years before attending Howard University. Upon graduating from the Berkley School of Music, he settled in New York City and went on to play behind Jack DeJohnette, Andrew Hill, Herbie Hancock, and Muhal Richard Abrams; during the mid-80s, Osby also performed alongside Steve Coleman, Geri Allen, Gary Thomas, and Cassandra Wilson as a member of the renowned M-Base Collective. Making his solo debut with 1987’s Sound Theatre, Osby went on to record several sets for the JMT label, also earning notice for his impressive contributions to Hill’s 1989 release, Eternal Spirit, and its follow-up But Not Farewell; with 1990’s Man-Talk for Moderns, Vol. X, he cut his first headling session for Blue Note, with subsequent efforts for the company (including 1993’s 3-D Lifestyles and 1995’s Black Book), pioneering a distinctive fusion of jazz and hip-hop. While 1996’s Art Forum captured the saxophonist in an acoustic setting, Osby continues exploring new avenues with each release, capturing the improvisational intensity of his live dates with 1999’s Banned in New York and reuniting with Hill and fellow elder statesman Jim Hill for the following year’s The Invisible Hand. 2001’s Symbols of Light (A Solution) was a varied effort that witnessed him teaming with a string quartet, while the next year’s Inner Circle was an older recording of sessions that featured a knockout version of Bjork’s All Neon Like. Osby teamed with pianist Marc Copland for 2003’s Round and Round, while St. Louis Shoes was released that same year on Blue Note. Also released on Blue Note was 2005’s Channel Three, with drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts and bassist Matt Brewer.
David Murray (tenor sax, bass clarinet) began leading his own rhythm and blues groups at the age of 12, and there is no question that his style is rooted in, but not confined to, a soulful blend of R&B, John Coltrane, Ben Webster, and Sonny Rollins. He may be the most recorded jazz musician in modern music history, and his output includes solo recordings and sessions with trios, quartets, quintets, an octet, and a big band. He is widely acknowledged to be among the greatest of living jazz musicians.
Since his emergence with Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time in the mid-70s, Jamaaladeen Tacuma has been one of the top electric bassists in a style of music called “free funk.” Growing up in Philadelphia, Tacuma (who before he converted to Islam was known as Rudy McDaniel) played with Charles Earland. Only 19 when he joined Coleman in 1975, his ability to combine funky rhythms with free jazz helped give Prime Time its distinctive sound. In addition to solo projects, he has played with a wide variety of musicians, including James “Blood” Ulmer, Olu Dara, Julius Hemphill, and David Murray.
Lee Pearson is a drummer who has performed with the Todd Marcus Jazz Orchestra, the Dontae Winslow Quintet, Rusty Mason, and the Original Superstars of Jazz Fusion.
Tickets to the World Saxophone Quartet Plays Hendrix are $28 ($24 Walker members) and are available at walkerart.org/tickets or by calling 612.375.7600.