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Steve Wilson: Passages

David Adler By

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Steve Wilson's second Stretch release is a triumph. It's more focused than 1998's Generations in that Wilson employs his regular working band this time around: pianist Bruce Barth, bassist Ed Howard, drummer Adam Cruz, and guest trumpeter Nicholas Payton. All the music is, in a word, alive. There are nine Wilson originals, one by Barth ("The Lexter," among the best), and one by Keith Jarrett ("Days and Nights Waiting"). Every track is full of color—melodically, harmonically, rhythmically. The band delivers crackling, bright swing on "Turnin' the Corner" and "The Lexter"; mournful alto-flute balladry on "Grace"; ambitious odd-metered grooving on "Q-B-Rab"; and tender soprano/piano duo work on the title track. Barth plays Rhodes on two of the cuts, thus joining the growing number of pianists contributing to that instrument's new vogue: Simon, Moran, Mehldau, Kikoski, Terrasson.

Another subtle yet strong presence on the album is that of latin percussion. Cruz plays caxixi exclusively on "Song for Anna," blending with Wilson's flute and Barth's Rhodes in a way that strongly evokes Chick Corea's Again and Again band. "Eye of the Beholder" features Cruz on steel pans, giving the piece a passing scent of early Tribal Tech. And three short percussion interludes—""Roots & Herbs," "Wilsonian's Grain," and "Wilsonian's Grain (Reprise)"—evoke the playful sensibility of percussionist Leon Parker, with whom Wilson has recently worked.

All these different elements are held together by a highly cohesive group sound that can only have been honed on the bandstand. The tracks just work—technically precise when they need to be, raw and spontaneous too, drawing from discernable influences yet never derivative or cliched. Could well be a top pick for the year.

Track Listing: Turnin

Personnel: Steve Wilson: alto and soprano saxophones, flute and alto flute, percussion; Nicholas Payton: trumpet (1, 4, 6); Bruce Barth: piano & Fender Rhodes; Ed Howard: bass, Adam Cruz: drums and percussion.

Title: Passages | Year Released: 2000 | Record Label: Concord Music Group

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