While the question of who's our finest contemporary big band composer/arranger could be debated for days on end without any resolution, there's no doubt about who's the dean. Gerald Wilson, who celebrated his 87th birthday in September, wrote his first chart ("Yard Dog Mazurka ) for the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra circa 1940. In case you're keeping score, that's 65 years ago. That's remarkable enough; what's even more so is that the compositions and arrangements on In My Time, Wilson's second album with his "New York Orchestra for Mack Avenue Records, are as sharp and invigorating as almost anything he has written to date, and that's no hype or exaggeration. Wilson's no late bloomer, but somehow his phenomenal creative powers have remained unimpaired for more than six decades.
The album's centerpiece is the three-part Diminished Triangle suite, commissioned by the California Institute for the Preservation of Jazz in '04 and premiered last April. The first and third movements embody all the hallmarks of Wilson's brassy, swinging style, while the slow-paced second movement's theme borrows liberally from Duke Ellington's "In a Sentimental Mood, which isn't a criticism, merely an observation. When one has heard as many tunes as Wilson has, such correspondence is presumably subconscious. "Sax Chase is, as the name implies, a snappy showcase for the saxophones, individually and collectively, while the atmospheric "Lomelin, featuring lead trumpeter Jon Faddis and tenor Ron Blake, invokes Wilson's love of Spain in general and the bull ring in particular (as did his masterpiece of many years ago, "Viva Tirado ).
The able rhythm section, guided by the splendid Canadian pianist Renee Rosnes, has the first two minutes of the fiery "A.E.N. to itself, and guitarist Russell Malone is the main man on the mellow "Bluesette. Wilson next turns his attention to standards, both jazz and popular, with dapper arrangements of Miles Davis' "So What and Cole Porter's "Love for Sale before bringing down the curtain with another of his lively compositions, "Jeri," named for his first-born daughter. Besides Faddis, Blake, Rosnes and Malone, Wilson's teeming stable of top-notch soloists includes trumpeters Jimmy Owens, Jeremy Pelt and Sean Jones; saxophonists Kamasi Washington, Dustin Cicero, Steve Wilson (especially charming on soprano) and Gary Smulyan; bassist Peter Washington; and trombonists Dennis Wilson and Luis Bonilla.
On In My Time, Gerald Wilson proves again that he is a musical marvel, able not only to maintain an artistic edge at age 87, but also to keep pace with composers and arrangers half a century or more younger. Simply put, he's one of the great writers of our time or any time, which you can easily verify for yourself.
Sax Chase; The Diminished Triangle (Dorian/Ray
Gerald Wilson: composer, conductor, arranger; Jon Faddis, Frank Greene, Jimmy Owens,
Jeremy Pelt (1,6,7,10), Eddie Henderson (1-5,8,9), Mike Rodriguez (6,7,10), Sean Jones (2
-5,8,9): trumpet; Jerry Dodgion: alto, soprano saxophone, flute; Steve Wilson: alto
saxophone, flute; Dustin Cicero: alto saxophone; Ron Blake: tenor saxophone, flute;
Kamasi Washington: tenor saxophone; Gary Smulyan: baritone saxophone; Benny Powell,
Dennis Wilson, Luis Bonilla: trombone; Douglas Purviance: bass trombone; Renee Rosnes:
piano; Russell Malone: guitar; Peter Washington: bass; Lewis Nash: drums.
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