When high-caliber musicians invest time and effort to produce music they believe in, one is loath to dismiss it as anything less than persuasive. On the other hand, any assessment of Colorado-based drummer Andy Wheelock's album, View from Here, must be tempered by an awareness that this is his special view, and that of his group, and that the overall result may not be embraced with equal fervor by every ear.
That is one way of saying that while the music therein is well-performed, it is for the most part some steps removed from bright and engaging, in spite of the presence on most numbers of the renowned tenor saxophonist Ernie Watts. These are Wheelock's compositions and arrangements, and while they are clearly proficient and well-written from a technical point of view, their appeal to those who are not musically sophisticated may well be limited. Musicians' music? Perhaps that describes it as well as any premise.
Wheelock's melodies are more esoteric than affable, the group dynamic secure yet similarly abridged. The opening track, "Vistas," sets up the disparate tone, driven by a quartet with Alex Heffron's guitar in the forefront; Watts makes his first appearance on "The Gorge," whose solemn mood brightens somewhat to accommodate Watts' typically agile solo. Watts and trumpeter Gabe Mervine make it a sextet on "Nowhere Fast," which quickens the tempo without heightening the allure, in spite of energetic solos by Watts and pianist Ben Markley and earnest timekeeping by Wheelock.
Markley introduces the sharp and emphatic "View from Here," whose powerful rhythmic thrust is echoed by Mervine and Watts. "I Knew You," the session's lone ballad, is arguably its most accessible number as well, as Watts shines brightly and Heffron delivers an exquisite solo. "That Good Struggle" opens on a shadowy note behind Mervine's wailing trumpet before the tempo quickens for his solo and another by Markley (Watts sits that one out). The mood (and rhythm) is considerably more animated on "Up, Rise!," with more fireworks from Heffron, Markley, Watts and bassist Bijoun Barbosa. Mervine is present but solos only briefly.
As noted, Wheelock and Co. are in sync and committed to his vision. To put it another way, everyone gives Wheelock's music his best shot. Whether that shot is precise enough to impress an audience is for listeners to decide. The judgment here is mixed.
Vistas; The Gorge; Nowhere Fast; View from Here; I Knew You; That Good Struggle; Up,
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