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Eric Wyatt: Look To The Sky

Dan Bilawsky By

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Look To The Sky is a story of family, navigating the world of jazz, and extolling those who helped light the way. To call it a tribute record would be to frame it inaccurately, but it's most certainly built around the personalized song of praise.

Saxophonist Eric Wyatt, a brawny Brooklynite with a heart of gold, uses this date to honor his parents, touch on touchstones, and walk down memory lane with his bandmates. He doesn't feign nostalgic sentiments or lean on sappy ideals, but there are clear echoes of the past in his instruments and the stories they tell. Opening on pianist Benito Gonzalez's "E-Brother," the first of three numbers influenced by Wyatt's mother's passing, this band wastes no time establishing a take-no-prisoners approach to music-making. The two other pieces honoring her—the bounding cut-and-slash title track, asserting the new heavenly home for the family's late matriarch, and "A Psalm For Phennie," a cathartic outpouring with a spiritually-paved entrance—come at her life force in different yet complementary ways.

Right beside that aforementioned psalm sits the sonic spirit of Wyatt's father, the man responsible for ushering him into the world of jazz. A rough-and-tumble tune driven by bassist Eric Wheeler's relentless walking, enlivened by the back-and-forth between Wyatt and drummer Kyle Poole, and giving Gonzalez a blank slate to paint over, "Jolley Charlie" perfectly encapsulates this leader's broad knowledge of the horn while highlighting the deep affection he carries for his musical guiding light.

Four of the five remaining tunes on the playlist are classics that, while nodding to the masters, were actually pulled into the present by circumstance and use: A charged and racing take on Herbie Hancock's "One Finger Snap" recalls the first time Wyatt and trumpeter Keyon Harrold ever played together; a 4/4 take on "Afro Blue," complete with a dicey undercurrent, carries status as a crowd-pleaser in Wyatt's live sets; soprano staple "My Favorite Things" was a condition of employment for his band at a jazz festival in Kuala Lumpur; and "Tenderly," performed as a piano-and-sax duo, instantly replaces this artist's tough-minded image with that of a romantic. There are some minor quips to be made here—the vocals on "My Favorite Things" detract a bit from the performance, the production doesn't always seem to display true depth of field—but that's all they are. In the end, Look To The Sky's edgy soul-searching and songcraft win out.

Track Listing: E-Brother; Look To The Sky-SisterCarol; My Favorite Things; Jolley Charlie; A Psalm For Phennie; One Finger Snap; Afro Blue; Starting Point; Tenderly.

Personnel: Eric Wyatt: tenor saxophone, alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, vocals; Benito Golzalez: piano; Keyon Harrold: trumpet; Eric Wheeler: bass; Shinnosuke Takahashi: drums; Kyle Poole: drums (4-6); Andrea Miller: vocals (3).

Title: Look To The Sky | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Whaling City Sound

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