James Carter, Dave Liebman And The Westerlies On Uncommon Ensembles


Saxophonists Samuel Blais (left), Donny McCaslin, David Binney and Dave Liebman make up the Four Visions Saxophone Quartet, a group that can trace its lineage back to jazz and the work of classical saxophonist Marcel Mule.

(Photo: Courtesy Sunnyside)

Unlike other ensembles, The Westerlies also spend considerable time workshopping their arrangements before ever performing them at shows, often waiting a year or more to debut new material. During that time, the group will work and rework an idea until they’ve collectively discovered a unique way of expressing a piece of music. “We put our brains together and really crack open each piece and rebuild it in a way that’s interesting,” Clausen said.

In 2016, the ensemble released its second album, The Westerlies (Songlines)—all clean, dynamic originals—and they have two more albums on deck for 2020. In January, the band plans to self-release its most varied album to date, Wherein Lies The Good—a jumble of tunes culled from disparate sources: a solo piano work, a 1930s vocal group and its own democratically vetted original ideas. Later next year, they’ll also unveil a recording of collaborative efforts with vocalist/composer Theo Bleckmann, Songs Of Refuge And Resistance, a dive into protest music past and present.

With these two pending albums, The Westerlies are moving in sync with their stated mission: to “amplify unheard voices, paint new sonic landscapes and cultivate a global community.” It’s a mission that group members take seriously, and one that influences the repertoire they choose, the musicians with whom they collaborate and the gigs they curate.

Sporting this forward-leaning vision, The Westerlies join a decades-long line of wind players who helped shape jazz history, each with a unique brand of genre agnosticism and freedom fighting. WSQ could share The Westerlies’ mission statement.

Liebman, however, takes a more sweeping view of jazz innovation: “That Marcel Mule. He really started something big.” DB

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