Sax Pax is a delightful addition to the visionary composer's catalog. As you might expect, Moondog insistently bangs away on bass drum and bongos, and a few older pieces ("Dog Trot," "New Amsterdam," "Bird's Lament") are revisited in new ways. Sax Pax is a genre experiment, fueled by truly inspired playing on the part of Tim Redpath's London Saxophonic. In addition to those nine sax players, there's Danny Thompson (formerly of UK folk-rockers Pentangle) on contra bass; there's also a booming male chorus — which includes Pete Hammill from the UK prog-rock act Van Der Graaf Generator — that sounds very Cecil B. DeMille. It all sounds extremely upbeat and weirdly contemporary despite the allusions to centuries of sound (from early Christian sacred music to '40s musicals and Duke Ellington).
I had the pleasure of interviewing Louis Hardin AKA Moondog just after this recording's release. "All the music on Sax Pax — as far as I know, there's not one technical mistake in the counterpoint, and that's so important," he said. "That's why I'm against improvising, because the soloist can't possibly know what the other guys are going to play and the chord changes don't always fit the melody." After I mentioned that lots of the album sounded improvised, in particular the version of "Bird's Lament," he beamed. "Thank you! That's the highest praise! For me to have worked so closely, so strictly, within the rules of counterpoint, and to still have the music sound as if it were improvised, that is the most I could ask for."