Well, hell. I thought Moondog would have taken up the harp by now, but
to my amazement, here's what has to be near his 20th release, Sax Pax
for a Sax. It's his Atlantic debut and his first American release since
1971. Who is Moondog? Some space rock god? Not hardly, and his history
is too rich and vast for this review, but here's a bit of bio: Born Louis
Hardin in 1913, he was a regular visitor to Indian reservations as a child
of missionaries. He was classically trained at the Iowa School for the
Blind, and moved to New York in 1943 to practice his music. A brief stint
again with the Navaho and Blackfoot tribes in 1948 set him off - oddly
enough - to jazz. Upon his return to the city, he chose to play in the
street and join forces with folks like Tiny Tim, Lenny Bruce, and William
Burroughs and Allen Ginsburg (in the film Chappaqua). Moondog is sited
as an inspiration to Steve Reich and Philip Glass, and his compositions
have been covered by Kronos Quartet and Big Brother and the Holding Company.
He is a man we all should get to know - infamous yet unknown, historical
yet unheard of.
Those tom-tom beats from Moondog's days on the reservations can still be heard today, on Sax Pax - Moondog provides the percussion, while the infamous Apollo Saxophone Quartet plays his compositions. The "pax" reference on this disc means that there are songs for multiple saxaphones, one set having four, one five, one seven, one nine, etc. Recorded at Newton Park College in Bath, England, the compositions are classically inspired, but jazzy in sound, and extremely accessible to any listener. They are in a word, beautiful.
These pieces are described as canonic - which basically means there are multiple voices where the melody is imitated exactly and completely by the successive voices. Most classical canons, to me, sound very churchy, and indeed, such a trait infuses "Golden Fleece" and "Hymn to Peace," two movements of the "Eec suite." Elsewhere, "D for Danny" is a tip of the hat to Pentangle founder Danny Thompson, while tributes to jazz greats include "Bird's Lament," and my favorite, "Present for the Prez.," in memory of Lester Young. There are other heavy hitters on the disc, but I have to make mention of Nicola Meecham on solo piano playing the utterly georgeous "Sea Horse."
Many of these pieces were written long ago, but unlike much of Moondog's other works, this collection is not hard to find - so buy it now! - D.