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THE WASHINGTON POST:

"I walked through the fields and talked, talked to God. Said, 'Please tell me if I'm doing the right thing. If I'm doing anything to hurt my people, stop me, give me a stroke, anything. 'Cause I'm serious about this," Bluiett says. "I thought about how many of my people had been whipped on those trees, how many women were molested. I did my libation to the plantation, to the ghosts of Mapleshade past."

"Digital is like a horrible step backwards," Sprey says. "You have to use your ear to sort out where the new technology helps the music and where it hurts...especially with the most expensive and most complex stuff that conventional studios are using."

"Being an artist is not about being perfect," Bluiett says, "it's about being good. I'm coming from another kind of perspective. See, I don't need perfection. It's already perfect. You understand?"

"What we are doing now is sort of like revolutionizing a lot of stuff, trying to take the sound and everything back to what the sound should really be about - instead of what the industry is demanding, or what they come up with, which is not really top-level.... They spend all this time taking the music apart and then putting it back together, supposedly to make you sound like you sounded from the very beginning. They have gotten so far away from real life and into the technology that it's pitiful."

"The jazz end of recording is being run like a smaller clone of the pop industry," says Sprey. "If a big company decides to take on a young artist, they know they're facing a quarter-million-dollar investment in publicity and tours and radio promotions and all that, so they want to make sure that they've got some kid that they can create a whole story around - he's from New Orleans and he's 19 years old and he plays classical music, too, and he went to Yale - all of which has nothing to do with making great jazz...

"If you look at the labels that are the real history of bebop - Prestige, Riverside, Blue Note - and the people that ran them, they were all people who really loved jazz and knew it. They weren't all sweethearts, and some of them screwed musicians to a fare-thee-well, but what's astonishing is how few poor records they put out. You look at Blue Note today, now that it's owned by [Capitol/EMI], and they put out an astonishing sequence of bad records. When they put out a good one, everybody's surprised."

"You only get recorded twice in life," Bluiett says, "when you're young and when you're old. Once you get to be about 90 years old and you're about to die and you really don't need to be running all over the world, then they want you to run all over the world and play. In the middle, you're lucky if you can work."

"It's a workhorse," Bluiett says. "If you play something like baritone saxophone, you almost have to make your own way, create your own work, come up with your own parts."

"But that's not my horn," Bluiett always replied.

"He really is a leader and a major thinker in terms of the way he wants his music to sound," tenor player David Murray said in a telephone interview. "A lot of people go with the flow, but Bluiett is the kind to create the wave."

"We were like wild horses, used to space and running free," says Bluiett. "Out in the Midwest, we had Geronimo and all that [stuff] all up in us too. Underground Railroad stops. It was a different way of thinking. It was the drum 'n' bugle corps all mixed up with hoot 'n' holler gospel. We got barbecued up in that church. Slow cooking. It was heavy blues country. Afro-gospel-blues country, where you had to sing a blues so hard that you hurt everybody next to you, and whoever left 'em ain't no good 'cause he hurt, and everybody else hurt, and that'll make you think about who you left, or who you gonna leave tonight, or maybe I better go get my woman now, or something."

"Standard speaker wire is made of PVC, which is the worst plastic for sound there is," he says. "They had much better sounding wire in the '20s, when they used like a cotton or silk webbing around it."

"You have all these knobs for adjusting equalization of sound, treble, bass, midrange and on and on and on," he says. "And each knob represents a set of amplifiers, so even if each of those amplifiers is brilliantly designed - which they mostly aren't - through the cascading process, you remove 1 or 2 percent of the music at every stage, and if you have 50 stages, you know, three-quarters of the music is gone. That's what the problem is.

"I have one stage per mike. That is, I have one set of amplifiers behind each one of the volume knobs. That's the only control I have....If a horn player thinks his sound is too bright, then we either change the acoustics of the room or the position of the mike. But we don't bandaid by twiddling knobs here. We get it right at the beginning."

"I got interest from labels, but not too many that wanted to simply buy it as-is," he says. "A whole bunch that wanted to mess with it, right? 'Oh, this is real interesting - if you would add so-and-so to the session.' Or 'if you would add some reverb to the session.' Or 'if you would add a background singer.' Right? And everything they wanted would have worsened the sound.

"But worst of all was that 95 percent of the time, they were people I had a very hard time shaking hands with, because they were very slimy, you know? People had warned me that I would feel that way about the musician side of it - that I couldn't open up my house to musicians, that I would have lots of trouble with all kinds of habits, and they were dead wrong."

"He lies there like he's in state, and everybody thinks he's asleep," Sprey says. "Until, you know, suddenly somebody plays something, sometimes just a lick that he's heard, and he is up out of that couch like a shot. 'What did you just play? Play that again.' And then something beautiful grows out of that, because he's been listening like a hawk."

"Bluiett came up with what in retrospect seems like a totally simple idea," says Sprey. "But like all brilliant ideas, it cuts right to the heart of the problem. Makanda is a great composer, so Bluiett had him compose a bunch of suites in which he could use every instrument in a given family. There are only four families of instrument" - reeds, horns, percussion and strings - "meaning we'll have four suites, and that's a record."

"No other conguero gets as beautiful and melodic sound from the drums," Sprey says, "mainly because he spends about three times as much tuning them as playing. And he plays in a beautifully open way that only masters can, hitting so few notes and expressing so much."