Vocalist-guitarist Fred Wisdom has put together a damn good jazz band. With himself on guitar, Jo Ruddick on piano, Percy Bassman on double bass, Jim Bashford on drums and Chris Bowden on alto sax, Wisdom’s unit sounds at times like a modern day Cool band that Miles and Evans would have dug. The group is aided and abetted by several impressive guest stars.
If Words of Wisdom was strictly instrumental, this would be a very good album. But Wisdom’s voice, lyrics and his phrasing bring the album up a notch. Wisdom possesses a deep, soulful voice reminiscent in some ways of the jazzier/reggae side of Sting. His lyrics are artfully creative, yet to the point. Wisdom’s blues writing is especially impressive as it maintains originality while drawing upon the great tradition. Many paragraphs could be written about Wisdom’s vocal phrasing. Perhaps without his knowledge or intention, his influences can not go unnoticed. In addition to the previously mentioned Sting, Wisdom, at least on the jazz numbers, seems to have been infected by the playful spirit of the great jazz singer Betty Carter. Throw in the influences of a few more top jazz/blues/pop/reggae vocalists and you have a wonderful recipe.
“We Should Fight” is the best cut on the album, but the others do not suffer in comparison. The pieces feature the whole package from cutting-edge jazz blowing to moving blues complete with catchy lyrics and ingratiating hooks. The musicianship on Words of Wisdom is tight and upbeat. This album's overall fun-loving vibe will have you listening again and again.
Although I would have liked to hear more of Wisdom’s guitar playing, one can not deny that Wisdom not only buys all the groceries—he cooks them too. Words of Wisdom is a tasty dish that will have you asking for seconds.
Personnel: Fred Wisdom- vocals, guitar; Jo Ruddick- Piano; Percy Bassman- Double Bass; Jim Bashford- drums; Chris Bowden- Alto Sax- plus guest stars