The Bluiett Baritone Saxophone Group strikes again. Four baritone saxes make for quite a wall of low-register sound, and every quartet member but Bluiett – Patience Higgins, James Carter, and Alex Harding – doubles on bass clarinet. In Carter's case, make that contra-bass clarinet, an instrument that can cause the room to shake. Since the horns have the bass function covered, all that's needed are drums; hence the presence of trapsman Lee Person and percussionist Kahil El'Zabar.
This unusual four-sax combo honks to high heaven on this live disc. But only horn fans of the deepest hue need apply. The squonk and bratt of horn syncopations like "Discussion Among Friends" are a bit grating after a time.
Recorded live in November, 1984 - an acoustical concert with no amplification except for a bass amplifier on For Macho - during the "Berliner Festspiele", at Berlin Philharmonic, Berlin. The clarinet was once one of the leading voices of jazz. During the Swing era clarinet players like Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw were Kings, but more recently the instrument has been all but forgotten in jazz circles. We should therefore thank World Saxophone Quartet member Hamiet Bluiett for his personal attempt at a revival with "The Clarinet Family." Recorded for the Black Saint label during a live performance in Berlin in November 1984, Bluiett trades in his trademark baritone sax for the alto clarinet, and joins forces with fellow clarinetists Don Byron, Dwight Andrews, Gene Ghee, John Purcell, J.D. Parran, Sir Kidd Jordan and even the great Buddy Collette on this eclectic tribute to the instrument.
The quintet on this CD (baritonist Hamiet Bluiett, pianist Don Pullen, bassist Fred Hopkins, drummer Idris Muhammad, and Chief Bay on African percussion) was only together for a week, but three CDs resulted from their engagement at the Carlos I club in New York; Mulgrew Miller is in Pullen's place on one of the two other discs. This is a particularly intriguing setting for the great baritonist Bluiett, for even though he is an avant-gardist, he is heard here playing such numbers as "I'll Close My Eyes" (which becomes so romantic at one point that it seems satirical), "Autumn Leaves," and Bluiett's blues "John."