Gerald Wilson Orchestra: Legacy (2011)
The beauty of listening to an orchestra in fine form is like being treated to an oceanic swell of music that rises and falls, creating great harmonic waves of sound. This further regales the intellect with the swish of brushstrokes as the music changes in color, from sometimes thick, dark dripping shades, evoking brooding emotion to the pale and moist shades of elation in an ever-changing palette. Then there are the timbres that refresh the soul and the rhythms that dance as soloists and ensemble engage in endless maneuvers, to bring the music to life. This and so much more is something to that flows effortlessly and endlessly from the Gerald Wilson Orchestra on Legacy. The vibrant force of the music is unstoppable, as Wilson draws music from the soul of each member of his ensemble.
Aside from the sophistication of the musicputting it in a stellar region all its ownWilson digs ever so deeply into his own heart and soul, and finds the magical element of the blues in its most visceral and elemental form. That and the almost vanishing aspect of great jazz: swing. So whether he is paying homage to one of his fellow-musicians, albeit from another eraIgor Stravinsky, or Giacomo Puccini or Claude DebussyWilson calls up the swagger and wickedly sensuous swish of rhythmic swing. Like the other masters of the attitudinal strut, Duke Ellington, his old mentor, Jimmie Lunceford, Count Basie and a handful of others, Wilson can make music dally almost languorously and yet move up and down and side to side in a hip-grinding manner. He is that young of heart.
With a handful of notes, a few bars of music tossed in the air like an expert juggler, Wilson creates sweeping sketches of impressionistic beauty in each case. The bone-crunching thunder of his "Variations on a Theme by Igor Stravinsky" is followed closely by an exquisitely complex wave of harmonic majesty in his homage to Debussy in "Variations on Clair de Lune." The deepest of emotion and painter-like brush-strokes are reserved for the Puccini impression. In all of these pieces, Wilson's joyous character is retained, as he makes the music of his ancestors meld with the Europeans, like an expert alchemist working the brass in bright bronzed shades, and hammering the metal into submitting to sheets of sound, tempered by virtuoso rhythm. No credit is given to soloists here, and the breaks are short, but the pirouetting cadenzas, but the technical virtuosity and the deep emotion of each are unparalleled.
Guitarist Anthony Wilson contributes "Virgo," a muscular, yet pliant and soaring piece that mimics the constellation. Eric Otis seems in tune with the magic and mystery of brassy musical alchemy in the wonderfully crafted "September Sky." But it is the unstoppable "Yes Chicago Is... (Suite)" that is ultimately the centerpiece. Legacy is a heartfelt homage to a city that has clearly touched Wilson to his very soul; one that he wants enshrined in gorgeous, joyful music.
Track Listing: Variation on a Theme by Igor Stravinsky; Virgo; Variations on Clair de Lune; Variation on a Theme by Giacomo Puccini; September Sky; Yes Chicago Is... (Suite): A Jazz Mecca; A Night at the El Grotto; Riffin' at the Regal; Cubs, Bears, Bulls and White Sox; 47th Street Blues; Blowin' in The Windy City; A Great Place To Be.
Personnel: Gerald Wilson: conductor; Lewis Nash: drums; Renee Rosnes: piano; Peter Washington: bass; Anthony Wilson: guitar; Antonio Hart: alto saxophone, flute; Dick Oatts: alto saxophone, flute; Kamasi Washington: tenor saxophone; Ron Blake: tenor saxophone; Jay Brandford: baritone saxophone; Gary Smulyan: baritone saxophone; Frank Greene: trumpet, flugelhorn; Sean Jones: trumpet, flugelhorn; Tony Lujan: trumpet, flugelhorn; Freddie Hendrix: trumpet, flugelhorn; Jeremy Pelt: trumpet, flugelhorn; Mike Rodriguez: trumpet, flugelhorn; Dennis Wilson: trombone; Luis Bonilla: trombone; Alan Ferber: trombone; Douglas Purviance: trombone.