Generations: Steve Wilson, Billy Childs, Ray Drummond and Ben Riley
Kennedy Center Jazz Club
October 22, 2005
Those of you who know Steve Wilson will probably wonder what cave I've been living in, but this club date was my introduction to the saxophonist, as well as Kennedy Center's KC Jazz Club. I certainly knew the work of his rhythm section: Billy Childs on piano, Ray Drummond on bass and Ben Riley on drums. As Wilson said early on, he was "walking with giants."
With a beautiful tone to boot, on both alto and soprano saxophones, Wilson demonstrated technical mastery throughout the set of six tunes. He played with a quiet fire, less flamboyant, for instance, than his peer Kenny Garrett, but no less intense. I greatly appreciated his choice of repertoire. The only well-known standard was Jobim's "Corcovado," played as a duet with Billy Childs. While Wilson listened intently, the pianist's variations and theme introduction was rhythmically and harmonically inventive. On Jimmy Rowles' "The Peacocks," Ray Drummond responded to one particularly gorgeous chord choice by Childs with "Whoa." Wilson impressed as a very thoughtful improviser, while Ben Riley quietly demonstrated his mastery of colors. Other tunes were Mulgrew Miller's "Small Portions," Walter Bishop's "Waltz For Zweetie," Ray Drummond's "I-95" (an alternately up-tempo and crawling bass solo), and Wilson's own "Sisco," dedicated to all the Trekkies.
This is one of the most subtle, sophisticated units you'll ever hear. I was particularly amazed by Ben Riley's minimalism, until "Sisco," when he let himself ham it up a bit.
The relatively new KC Jazz Club seats about 200 at small tables for four or five. It's a dark atmosphere with a Manhattan skyline projected on dark drapes at the back of the stage. Acoustics are good and admission is $25 per set. Food and drinks available.