Yes We Can is the most jolting, swinging, all-round best album by the World Saxophone Quartet in nearly 20 years.
WSQ, which was formed in 1977, still has at its core two of the founding members, David Murray on tenor sax and Hamiett Bluiett on baritone. The alto parts, which have shifted over the decades, are taken up here by Kidd Jordan and James Carter (the latter also on soprano at times). They’re all playing at peak power.
In its original guise, with Julius Hemphill and Oliver Lake on altos, WSQ was the signature jazz band of the 1980s, the spearhead of a spontaneous “neo-classical” movement (as critic Gary Giddins dubbed it), which combined the avant-garde’s passionate expressionism with the wit, grace and beauty of myriad traditional forms.
Much of this movement was captured on the Italian Black Saint label, as were the quartet’s seminal albums (especially Revue, W.S.Q., and Live at Brooklyn Academy of Music), though their most voluptuous work, the 1986 Plays Ellington, appeared on Nonesuch.
Hemphill, a master of stretched harmony, was the band’s driving force, and his departure. . .