Winning Spins by George Kanzler
Two musicians firmly in the mainstream jazz tradition of electric guitar playing bring us our pair of plectral Winning Spins this month. Jack Wilkins came up in the 1960s, reflecting stylistic influences of early electric guitarist like Charlie Christian, Johnny Smith and Tal Farlow, playing studio and musical theater as well as big bands, and has since been a versatile player who has worked with musicians as diverse as Benny Goodman and Charles Mingus, as well as Who's Who of famous jazz singers. Bobby Broom, who emerged in the 1980s, played with soul-jazz and jazz-pop artists and was influenced by George Benson. But his most important association has been as a veteran member of tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins' band.
The two offer personal approaches to repertoire, with Wilkins mixing up standards, show and film tunes, jazz tunes and more contemporary folk-pop fare - and Broom concentrating on the compositions of Thelonious Monk, plus two of Monk's favorite standards. Wilkins leads a quartet with Jon Cowherd, piano and organ; Steve LaSpina, bass; and Mark Ferber, drums.and Jeff Barone acoustic guitar. Broom helms a trio with bassist Dennis Carroll and drummer Kobie Watkins.
Wilkins' Until It's Time (MaxJazz) is marked by the leader's easy, off-the-cuff virtuosity, technique more beguiling than intimidating. There's an ebullience and joie-de-vivre here, especially to the effervescent uptempo tracks. The quick, samba-line choro rhythm and crackling guitar lead on the Brazilian warhorse "Tico Tico" remind us how much fun it can be to romp through a happy tune with creative dexterity. Wilkins displays his bop chops on Sonny Rollins' "Airegin" and "Walk Don't Run," a tune by his mentor Johnny Smith that's made memorable here by a rhythm section dropout for a sample of a cappella guitar. Two film songs get special treatment: Burt Bacharach's "Arthur's Theme" adds Samuel Torres on percussion for an Afro-Latin feel; Henry Mancini's "Two For The Road," with a haunting guitar intro, is cooly impressionistic with a slinky processional rhythm.
Cowherd doubles on organ, soling over it on piano, on James Taylor's "Blossom," a tune flirting with smooth jazz that shows up twice. More enticing on the ballad side is a lovely "These Foolish Things" and an earthy version of Buffy Sainte-Marie's "Until It's Time For You To Go." Rounding out the diversity are a swinging version of Beethoven's "Fur Elise" and "Show Me" from My Fair Lady transformed to a quick-step waltz.
Although he never employed, or officially recorded with, a guitarist, Monk's music continues to attract them. Joshua Breakstone and Peter Bernstein have each made all-Monk albums - and Monk alumnus drummer Ben Riley's Monk Legacy Septet employs a guitar - but no piano. Bobby Broom is the latest to join the pickers and strummers of Monk, and his Plays for Monk (Origin) is further evidence of how fruitful this music is for guitarists.
Broom brings his soulfulness and his bluesy inflections to the Monk canon, finding a flowing groove on "Ask Me Now," where his solo after the bass turn seems inspired by the lower register. A bass ostinato anchors his chorded elucidation of those "Rhythm"-changes-via-"Cottontail" contrafact, "Evidence;" and he doubles up his string lines on "Work." The trio unveils some rhythmic surprises, from the backbeat shuffle of the A sections of "In Walked Bud" to the New Orleans-flavored second-line syncopations of "Bemsha Swing." While Broom can run off long single-note lines with facility, he also heeds Monk's emphasis on space by bending notes and varying his attack as in the little hesitations on "Lulu's Back in Town." Meanwhile, his ballads are delivered with a Monkian gravity and reverence for detailed line, whether on Monk's own "Reflections" or the standard "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes."
Bobby Broom celebrates the release of "Plays for Monk" with his trio at Birdland on August 18. Jack Wilkins is one-half of a duo at Bella Luna on Tuesdays. This month, his guests are Dan Adler (Aug. 4), Bucky Pizzarelli (Aug. 11), Howard Alden (Aug. 18) and Harvie S (Aug. 25). Wilkins also appears with vocalist Jay Clayton at Cornelia Street Café on Aug. 29.
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Review "Until it's Time"