Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Miami Saxophone Quartet: Four of a Kind

Fourtitude Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Four of a Kind

Instrumental “choirs” have been around for hundreds of years in the classical genre, whether featuring string, woodwind, brass or mixed instruments. Jazz groupings, on the other hand, are much less common. I strongly believe that the swinging saxophone sections that were part of Woody Herman’s Herds did much to extend the choir concept to the jazz world. 

The year was 1947; tenor sax artist Jimmy Giuffre, who was playing with Buddy Rich at the time, wrote an arrangement for Herman and the marvelous reed section that worked with him at the time. Rather than employ the format common at the time — two altos, two tenors and a baritone — Herman used three tenors and a baritone. Stan Getz, Zoot Sims and Herbie Steward were on tenor; Serge Chaloff played baritone. All four artists used the smooth style of Lester Young, who played with Count Basie; Giuffre’s arrangement took that into account and his song title — “Four Brothers” — acknowledged the section’s wonderful sound. 

The Miami Saxophone Quartet is a reed ‘choir’ that reminds me of the Four Brothers format and sound. The core members of the group are Gary Keller, who founded the unit and plays soprano here; Gary Lindsay, on alto; Ed Calle, on tenor; and Mike Brignola, on baritone. They’re supported by pianist Jim Gasior, bassist Chuck Bergeron and drummer John Yarling. Guest appearances are made by Brian Lynch (trumpet) and Svet Stoyanov (vibes and marimba). 

Each musician is a master artist, boasting years of experience with name artists and groups. Keller and Brignola paid their dues as members of Woody Herman bands; Keller and Lindsay have toured with stars such as Frank Sinatra; and all are (and have been) members of classical organizations. They also teach ... and on, and on. 

Lindsay arranged all the tunes on this release, with support from Calle on the opener, “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” Three wonderful jazz standards are included: Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady,” Ralph Burns’ “Early Autumn” and Dave Brubeck’s “It’s a Raggy Waltz.” The rest are Gary Lindsay originals.

This is a marvelous album. The ensemble passages are complex at times, but always smooth as silk; the solo work is brilliant. You’ll rarely hear a combo that swings this much, or is as pleasant on the ears. This is the Miami Sax Quartet’s fifth CD; if you’re as impressed as I am, you’ll soon track down their previous releases.

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