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3 March 2010

Hamiet Bluiett - 'Birthright' (India Navigation)

This is "a solo blues concert" and that's always a bold move; solo saxophone records are not an everyday thing and presenting yourself as this type of soloist in concert is often demanding. Hamiet presents here what I assume is an unedited concert, with extensive liner notes in a cursive font that is too hard to read. Here's what I like about this record: it's diverse, and the recording is such that you really get the live feel. You can hear the room, and you can hear him moving around different parts of the stage. Bluiett is definitely rooted in melodic and blues-based forms, but there are some excursions into circular breathing and heavy affectation that usually accentuate the intent of the piece. 'Doll Baby aka Song Service', the 10 minute opener, is a tribute to his grandmother; it introduces the theme of family and history that carries through the album. The piece moves through a few different movements - slow, placid tones at first, and then a more sinewy speedrush through the higher registers of his instrument. Side two's counterpoint is the 'My Father's House' 3-part suite, which is fast, free, and chunky. This and the subsquent 'In Tribute to Harry Carney' are both described as "free-form telepathic", which me question how a solo performance can involve telepathy. Unless he means his instrument has a mind of its own. I love the way baritone saxophones sound; if I played saxophone, it would be my choice, except I think it's too heavy. Heavy as in carrying it, I mean; the sound of the instrument can certainly carry some gravity too, but his pieces avoid being overbearing. The conceptual, personal nature of Birthright is a nice complement to Endangered Species' more mind-based strategies. Bluiett got his start playing in the Mingus band -- well, actualy he got his start in a St. Louis grade school under George Hudson,who gets his own ballad at the end of side one -- but you can feel the eternal Mingus swing underneath some of the more dazzling runs. There isn't really any point where I am overdazzled though - I'd never point to this as an example of technical mastery, though he is more than competent - for me this is a record that showcases the range of his voice amplified by the range of his heart. There are some squeaks and squawks, but they don't take away from the color of his tune.

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