As a fan of all things "Benedetto," my limitless respect for Jack Wilkins' guitar virtuosity is based mostly on his participation in Benedetto Players concerts and the many performances, clinics and lessons brought to the forefront of the guitar world since the inception of JJG Magazine. Hearing REUNION catapulted me back to 1977 NYC, where as a seventeen-year-old commuting to the Ed Sullivan Theater by NJTA bus for guitar lessons, I ventured into every midtown and Village jazz club I could get into. The Brecker Bothers, Eddie Gomez and Jack DeJohnette were, as far as I knew, household names. These guys were jazz to the emerging young musicians, and their energy, innovation, and exquisite tone were the benchmark for the small ensemble.
Jack Wilkins has been at the center of this NYC scene for nearly thirty years. His tremendously well-rounded approach to the rhythm section role, and his fiery melodic solos make him the quintessential East Coast guitarist. REUNION places him comfortably among his peers, firmly at the top of his career. While any of the five stalwarts on this CD could have emerged as the "leader," Jack Wilkins provides the uniqueness and direction of the guitar-based rhythm section while doubling with the sax, trumpet/flugelhorn, and even bass in melody lines. This recording is the "Merge" of yesterday, yet slightly evolved, as these more mature musicians haven't lost their vigor but have certainly gained restraint and taste.
Wilkins' "Kiwi Bird" and "Reunion" (written for this CD) set the clear course for this recording. While I've heard Jack play Kiwi Bird live, and on his recent Bluesin', this version 'al la Brecker Bothers should be enough to turn this tune into a modern jazz standard. Placing aside Jack's sideman roles with Buddy Rich, Charlie Mingus, Bob Brookmeyer, Chet Baker, Astrud Gilberto, and Sonny Fortune (to name only a few), or his Organ/Guitar Trio recordings, this format is where Jack shines, and "Kiwi Bird" demonstrates his verve as leader, soloist, and composer.
Randy Brecker's contribution of "Moontide," and Eddie Gomez' compositions of "Scott" and "Cheeks," make this recording a true reflection of the personalities of this gathering of old friends. Add to the fray Horace Silvers bop tune "Break City", and standards "Your Heart is Mine Alone," "But Beautiful" and "All The Things You Are," and the listener is treated a wide pallet of NYC's finest jazz staples. The only thing missing from this CD was more Michael Brecker, who only played on two songs.
Middle age (sorry Jack) has been kind to these five musicians, all of whom were cutting edge players when they first found one another. Their accomplishments as sidemen and leaders in their own respective careers are each beyond extraordinary. Here, they are again the young lions performing one take, live recordings as if they had never left one another's company. They are fluid, inspired, and technically superior.
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Review - "Reunion"