Every so often, floating above the over–abundance of cookie–cutter mimes who overspread today’s mainstream Jazz scene, one hears a fresh and earnest new voice that causes him to do a double–take and say to himself, “Did I hear what I thought I heard?” That was my wholly unanticipated reaction as I listened for the first time to Wessell Anderson’s high–powered concert date recorded last May at New York’s Village Vanguard. Here’s a player with great chops, copious soul and prolific mind who, above all, is his own man. I’ve heard few alto players since Cannonball who showed such enormous promise — and Julian, as we know, is in everyone’s Jazz hall of fame. Anderson isn’t there yet, but if he keeps doing what he’s doing, who knows? The future seems to be his for the taking. It’s hard to believe, after hearing this eye–opening session, that he’s the same player I didn’t much care for on drummer Donald Edwards’ recent release, In the Vernacular.
Where’d he come from? New Orleans, where he honed his skills with Wynton Marsalis among others. Where’s he going? Based on this album, which I presume is Anderson’s first as leader, the sky’s the limit. “Warmdaddy” is a monster at any and all tempos, and, as Stanley Crouch astutely observes in his liner notes, he’s “a first caliber swinger” too. Anderson has a marvelous way of ad–libbing a cogent phrase and repeating it (much like Cannonball or, in another context, Martin Luther King Jr.) with subtle variations until the listener comprehends fully his purpose. When he’s not doing that, he’s stringing together dazzling runs that are as magnetic as they are persuasive. Anderson is an excellent writer as well, and his three compositions — the loping “African Cowboy,” sinuous “Snake Charmer” and fast–moving “Quick Skeem” — are among the session’s highlights. Trumpeter Mayfield sits in on four tracks but doesn’t solo, playing only melodic counterpoint to Anderson’s alto. The rhythm section, all of whose names were new to me, is wide–awake and responsive. Davis is the only one who solos, and he's another talent who deserves a wider audience. An impressive debut? By any measure, yes indeed.
Track listing: African Cowboy; Now’s the Time; Dis Here; Soul Eyes; Snake Charmer; I’ll Remember April; Star–Crossed Lovers; Quick Skeem; Red Top (72:02).
Collective personnel: Wessell Anderson, alto, soprano saxophones; Irvin Mayfield, trumpet (1–3, 8); Xavier Davis, piano; Steve Kirby, bass; Jaz Sawyer, drums.
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