The “bass, how low can you go?” aesthetic is generally associated more with hip-hop than with jazz. But for Hamiett Bluiett, whose baritone sax held down the lower end for the World Saxophone Quartet for many years, its application makes perfect sense: Alternately pensive and visceral, Bluiett — and the rest of his decidedly treble-free combo — rumble along with gentle warmth and outright fire.
This lineup of Baritone Nation — identical to the band that accompanied Bluiett on his recent Justin Time album, “Blueblack” — lists toward the cerebral. As evidenced on the first night of the sextet’s Gotham stand, however, brain workouts need not preclude the flexing of other muscles.
Bluiett and James Carter, whose baritone sax style tends to be somewhat flashier, challenged each other early and often during the set: On “Prelude to a Scream,” they meshed with familial closeness; “Humpback,” on the other hand, was characterized by a tone of wary stalking.
On occasion, Carter moved to bass clarinet, spelling or doubling the under-recognized Patience Higgins, whose bold bop style added a palpable spring to the proceedings — particularly when goosed by the trap stylings of Lee Person on “Discussion Among Friends.”
Kahlil El’Zabar’s pan-African percussive fillips, while not integrated as completely as they could have been, imparted an enigmatic undertone, thankfully free from the sort of travelogue shorthand on which too many percussionists seem content to fall back.
Surprisingly, the lack of brighter hues wasn’t detrimental to the beauty of the sonic pictures that Bluiett and company sketched at this perf.
Like the painter who focuses on a specific part of his palette, Bluiett finds a way to make his audience appreciate the depth of that confined area rather than bemoan its limitations.