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Sharp Nine Records' slogan is "Straight ahead and in the pocket." How well does Sharp Nine's offering from Anthony Wonsey fit the bill?
In the last decade, pianist Anthony Wonsey has been associated with prominent names like Nicholas Payton, Wallace Roney and the late Elvin Jones' Jazz Machine. So it's a surprise that Blues for Hiroshi is only the second album under Wonsey's leadership. (The album is the trio's first American release.) The disc is nicely paced with three originals and six standards that display Wonsey in a variety of mainstream settings from waltzes, ballads, bop and the blues and even a little stride.
The album opens with Wonsey's "Damn That Reality," his hard bop take on "Darn That Dream," with Goods and Reedus nicely kicking along the tempo. Next comes the ghost of Bill Evans in "Waltz for Debby," dragging his chain of "Bill Evans chords" mixed with your basic Wynton Kelly-type bop. "Brother Hiroshi" is dedicated to Hiroshi Imaizumi, Wonsey's patron, who has provided extensive exposure for the pianist at his Tokyo clubs. The modal-but-funky tune, coupled with Wonsey's locked hands chording and anachronistic mannerisms make it an interesting side-dish, but rather unmemorable.
Wonsey offers a welcome change of pace with "Just In Time": the out-of-tempo piano intro gives way to a lively swing as Reedus grabs his brushes. Goods contributes a melodic, nimble solo here. Jimmy Rowles' lovely tune "The Peacocks" is a little disappointing. The beautiful melody can easily be made cloying in the wrong hands. Wonsey thankfully misses that mine, but errs on the side of caution. His touch (or is it the instrument?) fails to tap into the sensitivity of the line.
"Just You, Just Me" is delightful collaboration between Wonsey, Monk, and Nat King Cole, with another solo spot for Goods. The third original is Wonsey's "Black Fairy Tales," a dreamy rubato reverie that segues into an impressionistic waltz. "Nobody Else But Me" begins with some Tin Pan Alley-style strideperhaps the way it was played when Oscar Hammerstein and Jerome Kern wrote it for Showboat in 1927. Then Wonsey swings it when bass and brushes after a chorus. Wonsey cedes the spotlight to Goods and Reedus for some unexceptional solos.
The trio goes out with Bird's blues "Relaxin' at Camarillo." If you're expecting some fire-breathing bebop here, you need to readjust your sights to something more like a swing-to-bop JATP session. Oscar Peterson's got nothing to worry about here, though.
Track Listing: Damn That Reality; Waltz for Debby; Brother Hiroshi; Just In Time; The Peacocks; Just You, Just Me; Black Fairy Tales; Nobody Else But Me; Relaxin' At Camarillo
Personnel: Anthony Wonsey (piano), Richie Goods (bass), Tony Reedus (drums)