Saturday, June 23, 2012
This week, we focus our video spotlight on baritone saxophonist Hamiet Bluiett, who will be performing a rare local date next Wednesday June 27 at the Missouri Botanical Garden. The free outdoor concert, part of the Garden's Whitaker Music Festival, will feature Bluiett fronting an all-star band including pianist D.D. Jackson, bassist William Parker and drummer Hamid Drake.
Considered the preeminent baritone sax player of his generation, and one of the best in the entire history of jazz, Bluiett has played occasional gigs in St. Louis since moving back to his hometown of Brooklyn, IL in 2002. But this one should be particularly special, though, both for the quality of musicians accompanying him, and simply because it's a big, outdoor show featuring the sort of adventurous sounds often relegated to small and/or obscure venues.
StLJN has featured Bluiett a couple of times before in this space; for today's installment, we've got a whole new bunch of performance clips that serve to demonstrate his considerable skills as a soloist. We get started up top with an improvised Bluiett solo from a performance in November, 2009 in Mt. Ranier, MD. Down below, you can see a duo piece from the same show featuring the saxophonist and his frequent collaborator Kahil El'Zabar on drums.
Below that, there are three seldom-seen clips featuring Bluiett and the great drummer Ed Blackwell, a New Orleans native known for his work with Ornette Coleman, Old and New Dreams, and others. Taped on Valentine's Day 1987 at an NYC venue called Jazz Track, the clips are rough in terms of audio/video quality, but the quality of the music and the energy flowing from the two musicians makes them all worth watching. Although the performance clearly is improvised, you'll hear bits of familiar tunes, as in the start of the second clip, which features John Coltrane's composition "Cousin Mary." Also, dig Bluiett's entrance from the wings in the first clip, a nicely executed bit of showmanship and swagger.
The sixth video is from Bluiett's performance at the 2008 Vision Fest in NYC. The group was billed as "Bio-Electric," and features the late violinist Billy Bang (another frequent collaborator of Bluiett's), bassist Harrison Bankhead, and drummer Hamid Drake (plus a trumpeter and pianist who were unidentified in the notes for the clip, but look awfully familiar). The song is the Billy Strayhorn composition "Take The 'A' Train," and while most of the band plays it straight, Bluiett just kind of explodes all over the track, splattering notes and upper-register shrieks in a way that suggests something a bit more exciting that a simple subway ride.
The seventh and final clip was recorded earlier this year at a concert at the Jefferson Center in Roanoake, VA paying tribute to the late pianist Don Pullen, who grew up in that area. Pullen and Bluiett worked together in Charles Mingus' band in the early 1970s, and remained friends and musical collaborators until the pianist's death in 1995. The clip shows Bluiett and an all-star band - saxophonist James Carter, pianist Jason Moran, bassist Christian McBride and drummer Nasheet Waits - performing a composition identified as Pullen's "1529 Gunn Street." Bluiett's solo starts at about the 4:45 mark.
For more about Hamiet Bluiett, check out this profile on him that ran in 2008 on the KETC program Living St. Louis, and this 2011 feature story about him, written by St. Louis magazine's Stef Russell.