Guitarist Jack Wilkins’ Merge (Chiaroscuro 156; 74:24) is a benchmark indicative of the heights achieved during the protean New York scene of the late-1970s. The first of the two 1977 sessions showcased Wilkins’ steely lyricism with flugelhornist Randy Brecker, pianist Phil Markowitz, bassist Jon Burr, drummer Al Foster, and again, Randy Brecker.
There are standards: “What’s New,” “What Is This Thing Called Love,” and “Falling in Love with Love.” But in the hands of Wilkins and friends, they’re fresh and re-energized thanks to the guitarist’s galvanizing reharmonizations and the players’ collective and individual audacity. For a sample, check out Michael Brecker’s cubistic deconstruction of Bronislav Kaper’s “Invitation.”
There are also salty originals such as Wilkins’ “FUM,” a jet-stream samba with a straight 4/4 bridge and inspired outing by the velvet-fisted Brecker on flugelhorn, and the leader whose sharply scissored lines glow with tube-amp warmth. Equally impressive is Randy’s “Buds,” a densely harmonic samba with a dollop of 3/4 and a propulsive forward lean. The Wilkins date is a summit of like-minded players pushing the envelope to the max while still retaining the basics of the neo-bop approach to modern jazz. As such, it sings as fresh today as it did when first issued in 1977. Bravo!
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