This disc reunites the guitarist with the same band that appeared on his 1977 set for Chiaroscuro titled “Merge”. The group includes Eddie Gomez on bass, Jack DeJohnette on drums, Randy Brecker on trumpet, and his brother Michael (for two cuts) on tenor sax. I’m sure just getting the assemblage of talent together in the same place at the same time was a feat in itself. This is a major league band.
That’s my first impression. They really play like a band, not just a bunch of cats making a session. Though the arrangements are tight, and often demanding -the participants are loose- comfortable with one another- enjoying the musical process- just letting it happen.
Of course the brothers Brecker have so much shared history, they function almost telepathically. Those giants of the rhythm section, Gomez and DeJohnette, mesh perfectly. Wilkins’ guitar stitches the parts neatly together, whether as a member of the front line, comping behind the horn players, or stepping out to solo brilliantly.
Nat Hentoff’s liner notes speak of the timelessness of this group’s music both in 1977 and today. It is the work of master musicians, which keeps it so. Still, the current album constantly references the earlier in terms of an overall mood and tone. No where is that more evident than on Jack’s title tune. It is very atmospheric: containing some unexpected changes that evolve as a series of variations on a theme, as one- by- one the musicians reinterpret its lines.
“Kiwi Bird” is a tune Wilkins has been playing and refining for a few years. The addition of Randy and Michael give it a new context, making the piece sound custom-tailored for the quintet. Horace Silver’s “Break City” is the second song to feature Michael, and his tenor work is both muscular and agile
Randy brought his tune “Moontide” to the session. It is notable for its organic linear interplay and the composer’s plaintive flugelhorn work. Gomez also contributed material to the affair, “Scott is a ballad centered on his superb arcato introduction and lush, piano-like chord work from Wilkins. The soloists swing it steamily, while still keeping true to the ruminative nature of the piece
“Cheeks is Gomez’ tribute to Dizzy Gillespie. It manages to convey Diz’ spirit and energy and launches into the realm of inspired improvisation. Jack, in particular, approaches his solo with an “outside” abandon, creatively challenging (and changing) the direction of the piece.
Three standards round out the set, though none is approached in what can be considered “standard” manner. The trio treatment (Michael sits out) of “But Beautiful” is a three-way conversation amongst Wilkins, Gomez, and DeJohnette. A delicate textural balance is achieved, as though each note, from each player, measure by measure is weighed against that of his fellows. The melodicism of the drummer, though present throughout the disc, is particularly evident here.
Both “All the Things You Are “ and “Yours is My Heart Alone” are neat abstractions of the originals. They are inventive and challenging, in the truest jazz tradition.
I’ve often commented about Jack’s love of experimentation. He’s never content to rest on his laurels. Consequently, each new recording offers him fresh new avenues of expression- even when he finds his inspiration 20 some years past.
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