Adventures in improvisation often border on the unlistenable. And for a select group of listeners who enjoy nothing more than shedding blood, sweat and tears over difficult music, that's just fine. But most folks, myself included, prefer to enjoy music without having to work our ears to their cochleae, while still being able to appreciate subgenres that are, well, a little left of the mainstream. For that lot in particular, meet the Brooklyn Sax Quartet: an adventure in listenable jazz improvisation.
Born 10 years ago to cofounders David Bindman (tenor) and Fred Ho (baritone), the BSQ has weathered more than its fair share of personnel changes, at one time counting New Mexico saxophonist Chris Jonas among its ranks, but its mission has always remained on track: to boldly go where few saxophonists have gone before without completely alienating casual listeners and avant garde newbies. Bindman and Ho contribute virtually all of the quartet's original compositions, which, on the group's latest recording, Far Side of Here (OmniTone), nestle neatly amid traditional tunes and works by Dizzy Gillespie ("A Night in Tunisia"), Billy Strayhorn ("Lush Life") and even Pete Seeger ("We Shall Overcome"). As odd as the array sounds, the album's 11 tracks stack up quite nicely, sharing a surprising number of musical threads.
The BSQ, which also includes soprano saxophonist John O'Gallagher and, as of this writing, altoist Sam Newsome, constructs rich harmony and complex interplay while maintaining finger-snapping rhythmic pulse and a deliciously evolved sense of melody. Energized by both the freshness that comes from pure ensemble improvisation and the timeless quality born of respectful recasting of classic pieces of music, the BSQ succeeds in its quest to attach new, beautifully colored elements to the jazz collage in an effort to attract new ears while satisfying the older ones. That's one hell of a feat considering that serious jazz listeners are a discerning bunch. But this particular fearless foursome will surprise even the staunchest skeptic.
The Brooklyn Sax Quartet perform Thursday, April 7, at the Outpost Performance Space at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $20 general, $15 Outpost members, and are available in advance at the Book Stop (268-8898). Call 268-0044 for more information.