Phil Waldorf

Record Reviews
Moondog: Sax Pax for a Sax (Atlantic)


It is the early 1960s - you are visiting New York City. As you travel down Sixth Avenue between 52nd and 56th Streets you encounter a man known as Moondog. This Moondog character is playing homemade percussion instruments, reading poetry, and interacting with the bewildered onlookers, all while dressed in full Viking garb. Fast forward to 1997, and nearly 20 albums later. Moondog releases Sax Pax for a Sax. This album is Moondog's first attempt at composing music for a saxophone ensemble, and while it may lack the outright weirdness of some of his early albums, Sax Pax for a Sax is an undeniably intriguing effort. Sax Pax is part of the artist's own zajaz series, which consists of jazz music venturing in two opposite directions. One direction of jazz is backwards, the theory goes, in the sense of composing via the use of classical training, while the other is a forward direction - taking jazz into the future by using both old and new musical techniques. While this description is somewhat accurate, it should also be noted that Moondog is not really pushing the boundaries of jazz in any forward directions. Instead, the sparse instrumentation here, with its pounding backbeat, will remind listeners of glorious jazz pasts. Even if Sax Pax for a Sax does not capture the future of music, it still is a good collection of mostly instrumental saxophone music that retains some of the strangeness of Moondog's early albums. The melodic, sometimes playful, sometimes wistful songs are accessible and enjoyable, bringing to mind gems from the Western pop canon pre-WWII - a couple are even sung by a bawdy male chorus that will bring to mind stock images of Parisian cabarets. It is remarkable that so long after Moondog's days on New York City street corners, he is still making a thoughtful and interesting contribution to the world of music nearly 50 years after releasing his first 78 rpm records.