Corey Wilkes: Drop It (2008)
As the man who took on Lester Bowie's mantle in the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Corey Wilkes is clearly not averse to a challenge. He's also a musician with an above average grasp of where the music's come from and a clear idea of where he wants to take it. As a trumpet player he's already got a lot of what it takes, a personal way of phrasing and an acute ear for a melodic line, and on this his debut disc he sets out his stall while putting down a marker for the future.
That said, there is a particular sheen to some of the music here which makes it a little anonymous, as on "Sonata In The Key Of Jack Daniels" where both Wilkes and tenor saxophonist Chelsea Baratz's telling solos are undermined somewhat by their backing and the fade does little to enhance the appeal of the piece.
The following title track is a better indication of how widely Wilkes has listened and learned with his deft use of electronic alterations on a sound that's indicative of a musician for whom the term Renaissance man might have been invented. Jabari Liu's alto sax is also telling here, the work of another musician with his own thing going on. "Remy's Revenge" takes things a little further in the best possible way, the music coming together in a way that nails the groove and compelling solos. Wilkes is all over his horn on this one, seemingly gambolling in the wide open spaces like a man who's undergone some form of rebirth.
"Searchin'" pulls off the not inconsiderable feat of sounding both contemporary and creative, and it might well be telling that Baratz joins Wilkes in the front line again. There's something quietly compelling about the way their respective sounds seem to merge, and the intimacy of their unisons is a thing in itself. Robert "Baabe" Irving III's piano on this one is compellingly sparse and it has the pleasingly odd effect of lending the music greater depth than it might otherwise have possessed.
There is however the impression of too much ground being covered here, though that could be down to nothing more pressing than "first album syndrome." Certainly the impression abides that Wilkes is a man with an infinite future in terms of where he chooses to go next, and in skillfully avoiding the hype. So far he's already proved himself adept at valuing the music far more than the marketing. In times like these that's no small achievement.
Track Listing: Trumpet Player; Sonata In the Key of Jack Daniels; Drop It; Remy's Revenge; Prelude: Touch; Touch; Return 2 Sender; Searchin'; Ubiqitous Budafly; Funkier Than a Mosquita's Tweeter; Drop It (Live).
Personnel: Corey Wilkes: trumpet, flugelhorn, cornet, percussion (10); Jabari Liu: alto sax (3, 7, 9, 10, 11); Chelsea Baratz: tenor sax (2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 10); Kevin Nabors: tenor sax (3, 5, 6), percussion (10); Robert "Baabe" Irving III: electric piano, piano; Junius Paul: acoustic & electric bass; Jeremy "Bean" Ciemons: drums; Miyanda Wilson: spoken word (1); Scott Hesse: guitar (3); Dee Alexander: vocals ( 9, 10); Justin Dillard: organ (10).