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Gerald Wilson: Jenna

Jim Santella By

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The catchy melody of the title tune, coupled with its lively rhythm and intricate harmonic structures, pretty well sums up the music of this 78-year-old big band master. Over the years Gerald Wilson has managed to create some very successful compositions and arrangements, and at the same time maintain a rather stable big band organization in the Los Angeles area. One of the secrets to his success is Wilson's ability to recognize young talent and to provide a suitable setting for the younger folk to grow.

Oscar Brashear provides stirring emotion and high-calibre technical proficiency on "Carlos", an image of the bullfight arena. The rest of the trumpet section provides the obligatory ceremonial high-note flourishes, and the harmony of the band combines to stir your soul thoroughly. Three blues numbers in succession, "Back To the Roots," "The Wailer", and "Blues For Yna Yna", showcase several of the band members. Baritone saxophonist Randall Willis, who has gone on to showcase his alto skills with the B Sharp Quartet, can be heard providing a standard blues riff behind the soloists with his deep saxy baritone sax voice. Guitarist Anthony, who is Gerald's talented son, can be heard expressing blues solo guitar work. Snooky Young, the 77-year-old Lunceford, Basie, and old Tonight Show band alumnus, can be heard expressing solo blues wailing with inflection that only experience can engender. The one bebop number includes burning solos by guitarist Wilson, trumpeter Brashear, and altoist Danny House. There is a snappy uncredited trombone solo that I think comes from the horn of Thurman Green. Danny House, by the way, can be heard every day of the week playing blues and much more at Disneyland; he's part of the marching band there, and he's spotlighted in their afternoon "Brass Brothers" strolling R&B unit.

The last six tracks harken back to the 1940s, with some special excerpts from the history of big band music. Melba Liston, who was once married to Gerald Wilson, wrote the lyrics to "Couldn't Love, Couldn't Cry", and Wilson wrote the music. Snooky Young and Gerald Wilson sing on the Lunceford hit "Margie". These early big band gems are reproduced here by Wilson's orchestra with all due respect to the original arrangements.

Title: Jenna | Year Released: 1997 | Record Label: Discovery Records

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