Left to Right:
Jesse Meman (Soprano, Alto & Baritone Sax, Flute)
Clayton Englar (Soprano, Tenor & Bass Sax, Flute, Bass Clarinet)
Ken Plant (Soprano & Tenor Sax, Clarinet, Bass Clarinet)
Tom Monroe (Soprano, Alto & Tenor Sax, Piccolo)
- An astonishing palette of sound from the unorthodox instrumentation…inventive and full of panache, with a dash of the experimental avant garde, both re-working jazz standards and including clever original pieces…a dynamic presentation that is full of forward movement and sustains interest; This unit could hold its own against any similar rhythm section-less unit playing today.”
– Jazz Times
- …tight riff-heavy arrangements, carefully woven contrapuntal lines, a propulsive sense of rhythm, and cleanly articulated concise solos…focus is placed on the group interaction, with the four players starting and stopping on a dime, trading licks with rapid-fire reactions. There is plenty of expert playing here and the four are adept at careful listening.”
– Cadence Magazine
- One of the best jazz groups in the area; craft, wit, imagination and a feeling for tradition; harmonic agility and finesse; tight and robust ensemble performances; every tune and arrangement points to its collective talent and imagination; like the World Saxophone Quartet meets Lester Bowie.”
– The Washington Post
- Their joy in playing explodes in every measure. The arrangements – of everything from ‘I Am The Walrus’ to ‘Naima’, not to mention standards and originals – are beautiful.”
– Le Jazz
About the Windmill Saxophone Quartet:
Formed in 1984 by Washington, D.C. area saxophonist, flutist, composer and arranger Clayton Englar, Windmill has developed a unique and highly eclectic sound over the years, drawing not only from jazz but classical, pop, Latin and avant-garde forms, and using a vast array of woodwind instruments: soprano to bass saxophones, flutes and clarinets. All four members contribute distinctive compositions and arrangements which, along with their own individual playing styles, gives the group a character all its own.
Over the next 18+ years, Windmill created an extraordinarily original, distinctive sound. The Quartet draws on modern jazz, bebop, Latin, classical, R&B, pop and avant-garde forms. Every member composes and arranges; every member is a multi-instrumentalist on various saxes, clarinets, and flutes. Windmill appeared at several popular D.C. area clubs, performance spaces, and festivals as well as engagements in New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. In 1985 Mr. Englar received a generous performance grant from the National Endowment for the Arts specifically for the quartet, which funded several public performances the following year.
While the group’s earlier performances were marked by extended, often loosely-structured pieces, with liberal doses of free-improvisation, this format gradually gave way to much more concise, melodic and strongly rhythmical compositions – as became evident in their 1988 debut recording, “Very Scary” (for Pathfinder Records). By 1998’s “This & That” (on Global View Music), their refined and highly-eclectic style had fully coalesced, and their live performances were truly special events.
Recorded concurrently with “This & That”, Windmill’s final CD “Touch of Evil” (on Mapleshade Records) brought their concept back to its more free-spirited roots, in the company of several other like-minded musicians. All recordings are described below, and can be previewed using the embedded player. Please, have a listen! All CDs can be purchased on the Order CD’s page.
NOTE: You can purchase a wide variety of music arranged by Clayton for saxophone quartet, including several tunes recorded by Windmill, by visiting GVM’s Sax Quartet Sheet Music page.
From the liner notes for “A Touch of Evil”; photos by Steve Sullivan.
Born and raised in northern California, Clayton started playing clarinet at age ten. Within a couple of years he fell in love with the saxophone, and was naturally drawn to the bigger horns. His commitment to jazz was cemented by playing bari sax for the charismatic leader/arranger of California¹s top-ranked high school big band.
Continuing to play in the Bay Area, Clayton¹s next great mentor in jazz was the late sax legend Joe Henderson. Studying with Joe and playing in San Francisco throughout the ’70s, Clayton joined and co-led a variety of jazz, fusion and Latin bands – the last being the contemporary jazz quartet, Thursday Group. Moving east in 1980, Thursday Group recorded two highly-acclaimed albums for Pathfinder Records over the next several years.
Settling in the Washington, D.C. area, Clayton played actively with another eclectic mix of big bands, Latin and jazz groups, and R&B combos. He also studied theory, composition and ear-training with DC area musical guru, Dr. Asher Zlotnik. In 1984 he formed the Windmill Saxophone Quartet.
Growing up in the Maryland-D.C. area, Jesse joined his first group, the Ukulele Barbershop Quartet, at age seven. A year later he¹d found the saxophone and was playing in his school¹s stage band. By eighth grade he was lead guitarist and singer for the Stoned Vultures, a rock and roll band.
A year later he joined his first jazz band and started composing‹the beginning of a lifelong passion for jazz. Jesse kept on playing in jazz bands through high school, Prince George¹s College and St. Mary¹s College. At St. Mary¹s he also started studying classical alto saxophone and flute and played under legendary trumpeter Cat Anderson. Jesse also started an avant-garde group, the Frequent Arkestra.
After graduating college, Jesse continued appearing with the Frequent Arkestra as well as nearly a dozen area big bands. He has worked with Archie Shepp, Anthony Braxton, Carl Grubbs, Jackie Bayard and Muhal Richard Abrams. One of the original, founding members of Windmill, he soon became their most prolific composer/arranger.
Outside Windmill, Jesse is featured soloist in a wide variety of Latin bands, show bands and jazz bands and does studio work, In addition to his Windmill recordings, he has recorded with Ran Blake, the James Bazen Big Band, the Peter Fraize Sextet and a number of performance poets. He is also a dedicated music teacher in jazz, woodwinds, and guitar.
Growing up in suburban Maryland, Ken Plant started his music studies on the clarinet at age ten. He continued playing clarinet throughout high school, then added saxophone in college. At the University of Maryland he studied music composition and saxophone, emphasizing twentieth century and electronic composition. During and after college, Ken started performing with several twentieth century ensembles. He composed and performed music for Theatre du Jour, an avant-garde theater troupe, as well as with The Source Theatre Company.
In 1983, Ken moved to Baltimore and, like Clayton, began intensive studies with Dr. Zlotnik. A year later he joined Windmill. At the same time he continued playing with other jazz groups and dance companies in the greater D.C. area, including the Thad Wilson Jazz Orchestra. After relocating to the VA suburbs, he started performing Latin jazz in the mid-eighties, and continues to explore this genre today. More recently Ken has been playing and recording with the Tom Cunningham Orchestra.
Tom’s earliest musical memories involve jazz: a handful of old Dukes of Dixieland and Shorty Rogers records that he played to death. He joined his church choir at ten, and then started studying flute with the choir director. At age thirteen, jazz records from the library by the likes of John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, John Handy and Miles Davis ignited his love of the music, and especially for the saxophone. He started playing tenor in high school, soon joining the school¹s jazz band.
Tom began to take is passion more seriously as a music major in college. Tom continued playing and writing for several jazz groups, and soon was a full-time musician – playing in a wide variety of styles and contexts.
His next great music turning point came in 1987, when he became yet another student of Asher Zlotnik. Soon after, Tom both completed his music degree studies and joined Windmill. His composing and performing have flourished ever since. He currently teaches music in area public schools.
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This much-anticipated recording included ten of the quartet’s best pieces, and met with universally enthusiastic response both from the press and in radio airplay in the U.S. and abroad. It was also nominated for that year’s NAIRD (National Association of Independent Record Distributors) Best Jazz Album award. Long out of print, this recording is available now in a CD-R version, for only $8.50 (including shipping).
Windmill’s second release is appropriately titled “This’n’That” (Global View Music – 1998). It features more of Windmill’s unique originals, as well as a surprisingly diverse sampling of arrangements of other composer’s works (from Dizzy Gillespie and John Coltrane to The Beatles and Talking Heads). Recorded by maverick audiophile/minimalist recording engineer Pierre M. Sprey, at his Mapleshade studio, this new CD is an aural as well as musical pleasure to listen to. Online price for this CD is a very reasonable $13.50 (including shipping).
“A Touch of Evil”
This new CD was also recorded at Mapleshade Studios, during the same time period as “This’n’That”. However, unlike previous projects, this time Windmill is performing with several other talented and empathetic musicians, in a variety of configurations – and using a much looser, more exploratory approach. Featured on piano is the legendary Ran Blake, along with Paul Murphy on drums, bassist Ben Allison, pianist Frank Kimbrough, and percussionist Alfredo Mojica. There are only 5 pieces on this 74-minute CD, including a truly remarkable, unaccompanied, 32-minute free improvisation. Online price for this CD is $13.50 (including shipping).
“Live at Twins Jazz”
Recorded on March 20, 2003 at Washington, DC’s popular Twins Jazz night club, Windmill is captured in an exciting live performance with master percussionist Mark Merella sitting in on several cuts. Tunes from all 3 Windmill albums are featured, as well as 3 new pieces. This release is a CD-R, originally recorded direct to minidisk with a basic stereo microphone – not super hi-fidelity, but quite listenable (unless you’re a committed audiophile, you will NOT be disappointed!). As such, the price for this 78+ minute is only $6.50 (including shipping).
If you like what you hear, head over to the Order CD’s page where you can purchase these CDs in addition to material from other groups.