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M'bizo [Audio CD] World Saxophone Quartet

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The celebrated quartet is joined by an array of African percussionists and instrumentalists on this David Murray-led outing. Composed as a four-part suite, M'Bizo loosely follows the story of legendary bass player Johnny Dyani, who, after being forced to leave Africa for musical and political reasons, was unable to return to his homeland before his untimely death in 1986. Actually, this story could work as a metaphor for all the famous African expatriates, which the presence of the African vocalists and musicians who lend support to the quartet on this album underscores. With staggering precision, the 20 or so players assembled here weave fluently and mellifluously throughout this opus with an emotional intensity that is truly joyous and liberating at the same time. The title cut, which jells like a funky, Meters-style march, is a perfect example of the kind of lengthy ensemble playing contained herein: rolling along for 12-plus minutes, this piece showcases the brilliant interaction between the African singers and the quartet itself as the spiritually uplifting choruses mesh perfectly with the braying sax solos of current quartet members Murray, Oliver Lake, Hamiet Bluiett, and John Purcell. With the addition on this track of James Lewis on bass and D.D. Jackson on piano, the quartet sounds more like a real band--and less like an experimental litmus test for some good but sometimes ill-conceived ideas--than ever. The only song not part of the suite, the intro "Snanapo," is uplifting in its own right--a harmonious honkfest with the same sort of Afro-New Orleans fusion of secular and sanctified. Rejoice! The World Saxophone Quartet has created a masterpiece! --Joe S. Harrington