Robert Wagner's reeds exude a soulful sound. The New Orleans-based woodwind musician goes on extended improvisational romps on this trio recording while his band of bassist James Singleton and drummer James Alsanders lays down a solid foundation for his lift-off. Wagner's expansive solos filter from his tenor, alto, or soprano with gliding consistency. He does not display jagged edges or raspy abrasiveness in his delivery but instead allows the streams of notes to pour out in smoothly flowing waves of sound.
One of the more compelling songs on the disc is 'Arthur Blythe.' Wagner spins out a tune very much in the tradition of Blythe's composing style. He salutes Blythe by capturing the big man's essence while making the song distinctly his own property. Wagner is very much at home with slower-paced ballads where his full tonality comes to the fore to express emotion, as he does so eloquently on 'Tears of the Sun.'
Wagner's team is behind him all the way. Both Singleton and Alsanders give him all the support necessary to fly on high. There are occasional solo moments for the two and opportunities for them to interact as a duo, but their main role appears to be as underpinning pillars for the ongoing wealth of free speech gushing from Wagner's horns. Singleton plays mournful arco stretches on the tender selections to add substance, and Alsanders is in constant motion propelling Wagner to greater heights
When the tempo kicks into the fast lane, Wagner goes into non-stop mode with reams of free-sailing improvisations pouring relentlessly from his reeds. His playing, however, always appears to have tangible handles for latching on and riding with him. He builds up a head of steam, but the tail of the comet is graspable, seemingly never out of reach. The logical development to his improvisations makes this communication possible.
The compositional base, which is all Wagner's, provides extensive space for him to excel. The tunes bubble over with soul expressed in liberated terms. Wagner assembled a solid band, and the trio marches in lock step to offer music with spirit, sensitivity, and softened muscularity. The set projects Wagner as a top-rate improviser and composer who relays his message convincingly.
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Personnel: Robert Wagner-tenor, alto, & soprano saxophone; James Singleton-bass; James Alsanders-drums.
Recorded: December 18, 2002, New Orleans, LA.