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Steve Wilson: Generations

Ed Kopp By

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There's an effortlessness to Steve Wilson's saxophone playing, a controlled grasp of melody and rhythm, that cannot be taught in music school. To reach Wilson's level of musicianship obviously takes years and years of intense practice, but this young dude is clearly blessed with an abundance of natural ability. Like a great running back who weaves through would-be tacklers, Wilson meanders gracefully through the spaces created here by Mulgrew Miller (piano), Ben Riley (drums) and Ray Drummond (bass).

A native of Virginia and graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University, Wilson settled in New York in 1987 and quickly became one of the Big Apple's most respected sidemen, recording with Leon Parker, Don Byron, Bruce Barth, Dave Liebman, and most recently with Chick Corea's Origin. Generations is actually Wilson's fifth recording as a leader, but his first on Stretch Records. Wilson's concept for this major-label debut was to pit himself with several generations of older players who first inspired him to become a jazz artist.

Miller, Riley and Drummond are veteran virtuosos, and they team with the young soprano and alto saxman on four Wilson originals, one Miller composition, one by Drummond, and two standards. All of the tunes are impressionistic and bop-oriented, but all have strong melodic foundations. As my wife describes it, this is "heavy-duty jazz."

Wilson is equally adept on soprano and alto, and he even plays flute on the gently swinging "Wait," bringing to mind another talented sax-flutist, Eric Dolphy.

Ben Riley continues to be a remarkably stalwart drummer at age 65, and Drummond is his old reliable self on bass. Miller seems particularly loose on these tracks, whether injecting gentle Latin frills on "Trapaceria," comping on Wilson's many impressive flights, or playing extended bop solos. He and Wilson really cook on the free and bopping "Sisko," my favorite track.

The fact that Steve Wilson shines in such company bodes extremely well for his future.

Track Listing: Small Portion; A Joyful Noise (for JW); Sisko; Leanin' & Preenin'; Chrysalis; Sweet and Lovely; Wait; Trapacer

Personnel: Steve Wilson: alto and soprano saxophones, flute; Mulgrew Miller: piano; Ray Drummond: bass; Ben Riley: drums.

Title: Generations | Year Released: 1998 | Record Label: Concord Music Group

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