Composer and percussionist Louis Hardin -- who's gone by the name Moondog since 1947 -- was a New York City cult phenomenon in the 1950s. Back then, his eclectic compositions, which merged jazz, classical, Native American strains and other influences long before such fusion was fashionable, were admired by Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Leonard Bernstein and Arturo Toscanini. Moondog has also influenced the minimalist movement championed by Steve Reich and Philip Glass, recorded a release of children's songs and ventured into classical music with an orchestral release in 1969.
Moondog's diversity, of course, makes him difficult to categorize, and Sax Pax for a Sax, Moondog's first U.S. release since 1971, is another interesting concept recording from this unclassifiable icon. Playing bass, drums and percussion, Moondog leads various saxophone ensembles through 15 of his compositions that combine jazz harmonies and baroque choral forms. The size of the ensembles varies throughout the CD, and those proportional shifts are integral to the ebb and flow of Sax Pax, adding to its unique compositional flavor. The result sounds as if Johann Sebastian Bach, Duke Ellington, Philip Glass and Sun Ra had been commissioned to write a score for a woodwind ensemble -- together.
While the songs generally follow classical structures, Moondog's melodies have a certain pop flair, as heard on the catchy vocal tracks "Paris" and "New Amsterdam." Still, the result is hardly conventional. It's somehow both a bit tiring and provocative nonetheless. Whether it's called jazz, classical, fusion or something else entirely, Moondog's Sax Pax for a Sax is one of the more unique recordings out there.