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Kalil Wilson: Easy to Love

Raul d'Gama Rose By

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It is somewhat disconcerting how few new male vocalists inhabiting the jazz idiom practice their craft with the same degree of genius and virtuosity as saxophonists and other instrumentalists. It is a conundrum why so many new artists don't play the first instrument—the human voice. Some posit that poeta nascitur non fit? Is it true that vocal art is the one art that cannot really be taught, but only refined in those who "were born with it"? That appears so. There is, after all, only one Ray Charles, Louis Armstrong or Frank Sinatra, not to mention Al Hibbler, Milt Grayson, Johnny Hartman Kurt Elling or Bobby McFerrin. The days of the great male crooners are over.

Until, it appears, Kalil Wilson came along. Here is a singer, a profoundly smoky tenor, who is so singular and naturally expressive that his voice appears biologically connected to "living breath." His phrasing, dynamics and expression are sublime, effortless and otherworldly. Yet he is completely connected to the long and celebrated tradition of vocalists—too many to name here. Wilson is heard on Easy to Love, a debut of bottomless depth and grandeur. But it's also self-effacing and completely lacking in the grandstanding that some vocalists might resort to today, in order to be heard and appreciated.

Wilson does not so much sing as he floats, slides and swims on the air that propels the lyrics, becoming characters in the songs. If it were not a scientific fact that the lungs were a repository of the air that blows through the vocal chords, it would seem that these controlled gusts of wind came from his soul. Perhaps they actually do, for his notes ring loud and sometimes barely above a whisper, in tones and shades that give shape and color to the characters. He deepens the songs as he plays them to the hilt.

On "You've Changed," a swaggering bluesy lament, he plays the elementally sad lover who cannot seem to get through to his stonehearted partner. Wilson soars magnificently in his unbelief. He is a soulful listener at the feet of "Nature Boy." Here, too, he sings on, and sometimes behind, the beat; and even stretches and twists the odd note.

Other songs on the record shine anew with his deeply personal interpretation and polished delivery. On "Stardust," "Easy Living" and "I'm in the Mood for Love"—especially on the latter—his voice enrobes the melody, carving out new harmonics. On "Then I'll Be Tired of You," as elsewhere, he navigates the scales of the song, creating new peaks and valleys with the surprising arpeggio. He can swing unabashedly, as on "Easy Living" and "I Cried for You." Rollicking swing is facilitated of course by pianist Berkeley Everett, organist Eli Sundelson and the other fine musicians on this exquisite record.

Track Listing: Day By Day; I Concentrate on You; You've Changed; Nature Boy; I Cried for You; Easy Living; Stardust; I'm in the Mood for Love; Then I'll Be Tired of You; I Only Have Eyes for You; Do You Know Why?; If I Could Be with You; If It's Magic; Song for You; Just for Grandma Jo.

Personnel: Kalil Wilson: vocals, background vocals, percussion; Berkley Everett: piano; Chris Bastian: bass; Max Griffith: drums; Ethan Emerson: guitars (2, 6); Ray Bergstrom: guitars (12); Josh Duron: percussion; Eli Sundelson: Hammond Organ; Peter Hargreaves: tenor saxophone; Kathy Hoye: background vocals.

Title: Easy to Love | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Self Produced

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