In 1980s New York City, the late, great Microscopic Septet were the greatest, swinging-est, coolest, hottest avant-anachronistic combo that ever was, only darn few outside of the Lower East Side knew it. Maybe it was because their albums were released on small labels, they didn't garner enough over-ground media coverage, and/or - as I like to think - they were just too darn good (for their own good, that is) and resisted easy categorization. Ultimately, the Micros were too earthy 'n' swingin' for the avant crowd, too "out" and/or humorously quirky for the sober/somber post-bop set, and certainly not sweet or bombastic enough for the fusion crowd(s).
In a nutshell, the Microscopic Septet were a four saxophones, piano/bass/drums configuration led by Phillip Johnston (soprano sax) and Joel Forrester (piano), who specialized in an inspired mélange of tightly arranged swing (a la 1940s big band), tastily twisty, wryly witty compositions inspired by Thelonious Monk and Steve Lacy, and the riff-driven jump-blues of Earl Bostic, Louis Jordan, and Willis Jackson. Johnston's and Forrester's compositions were never mere frameworks for blowing, but distinctive compositions that displayed a knowledge & love for the entire jazz continuum (not just the post-Charlie Parker or post-Coltrane eras).
The classiness of Ellington and Gil Evans, the sardonic passion of Mingus, the urbane wit and economy of Monk and Lacy, the daring of Coleman, Ayler, and Carla Bley, the Saturday night riff-a-rama fever of Bostic and Big Jay McNeely, and the thoughtful romanticism of Gene Ammons and Stan Getz - all have made their marks on these fellows. The Microscopic Septet (who once counted John Zorn as a member - see Volume Two!) was sadly unique in the world of modern music: Hepcats bent on performing music aimed at the mind, the heart, and the tapping foot - what were they thinking? You'd better find out.
Both sets are fab, but if only one of these 2-CD sets you can afford, go for Vol. Two, which contains their ne plus ultra album Beauty Based on Science!