The Saxophone Cartel was a chamber ensemble begun at Indiana University-Bloomington by mathematician and saxophonist Benjamin Himpel, inspired by horn based bands such as the Kolner Saxofon Mafia and the Fun Horns. From its inception in 2003, it spanned numerous editions, including several versions in New York City until 2011.
After an an initial exploratory phase, instrumentation and core personnel were established, and the Cartel's repertoire centered around notated original compositions and spontaneous free improvisations. Between those two poles, the group moved fluidly between jazz, blues, funk, salsa, classical chamber music, and skronky atonal improvisations, all with an infectious humor and joie de vivre.
The Cartel performed gigs and recitals at local venues such as Bear's Place, Gallery West, and the Jacobs School of Music. In 2003, the group opened for ROVA Saxophone Quartet at the IU Student Union as part of the "Beyond the Pale" concert series, and it was a featured performer on the 2004 "Live From Bloomington" CD compilation benefiting local charities. In 2004, the group traveled to North Carolina to perform at the North American Saxophone Alliance (NASA) conference, and it was selected to participate in the 2004 North Sea Jazz Festival under the auspices of the International Association of Jazz Educators (IAJE) but was unable to attend.
The group subsequently underwent several editions as personnel came and went, recording a live album at Space 101 in 2006, going on hiatus for three years, and ultimately regrouping in New York City around 2009-2011. One particularly memorable concert in 2009 featured the multi-instrumentalist and improviser Ned Rothenberg at The Ottoman Lounge in Williamsburg. The group also embarked on a brief Midwestern tour in 2010.
Caught in the Act was the Saxophone Cartel's first recording, and it featured the original core sextet. It is available for purchase on iTunes, CD Baby, and Amazon. The full album here is offered for streaming.
Recorded March 7 and 28, April 4 and 21, and May 9 and 10, 2004 at WFHB
Mastering - Jake Belser at Farm Fresh Studios, Bloomington, IN
Engineering - Mike Chrastil
Executive Producer - Jeffrey Morris
Production - The Saxophone Cartel, Mike Chrastil
Original album photo - Colin Renick
Album graphic design - Donald Price
"All-saxophone groups tend to be quartets, but the Saxophone Cartel bumps the standard format up to a sextet, adding detail rather than mere weight to the ensemble sound. They keep at a slant to Jazz orthodoxy: there are nods to classical polyphonic tradition (the gradually swelling procession of “Passacaglia”) and the punchy horn charts of James Brown’s band (“Key of J.B.”), and even the more Jazz-centric pieces feature scrimshaw-intricate arrangements rather than the usual head/solos/head structure...There are several free improvisations, which place the emphasis on spontaneous convergence, as riffs and melodies emerge and are quickly seized on: despite abrasive moments such as the squiggly opening to “Newton’s Nightmare,” the mood is playful rather than confrontational or austere...The imaginative arrangements (mostly Benjamin Himpel’s handiwork) offer a more individual voice than any of the players’ actual solo work, perhaps, but Caught in the Act is still well worth hearing, offering a few new wrinkles on the familiar sax-ensemble format."
-Nate Dorward, © Cadence Magazine 2006 www.cadencebuilding.com ph: 315-287-2852
"Wonderful group. Original stuff and well played." -- David Liebman
"Well done and super creative." - Greg Osby (on Myspace)
"Brilliant!" - Benedikt Eppelsheim, German maker of soprillo, bass, contrabass, and subcontrabass saxophones, and inventor of the tubax