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November 2008

Corey Wilkes
Drop It
Delmark Records

Lester Bowie’s death left a big gap in the Art Ensemble of Chicago, but Windy City trumpeter Corey Wilkes proved an able successor on the rejuvenated group’s live Non-Cognitive Aspects of the City in 2006. Anyone expecting similar outward excursions on Drop It, though, is in for a surprise. Wilkes, who has also played with Kahil El’Zabar and the Exploding Star Orchestra, keeps things decidedly inside on his debut as a leader.

Things get off to a rocky start. Excepting “Remy’s Revenge,” a heavy groove penned by saxophonist Chelsea Baratz, the early tracks take a contemporary approach that sets a mood. But those tracks don’t really dig themselves in: “Touch” almost moves in a smooth direction but gets rescued by Wilkes’ buttery solo.

Things start to click at the halfway point. By the time the album closes with a live version of the title track, the second version on the disc, Wilkes has found a balance of heavy, funky backbeats and serious solo chops. This track follows a vicious reading of Tina Turner’s “Funkier Than a Mosquita’s Tweeter,” in which Dee Alexander handles the tough vocal, and the equally grooving “Ubiquitous Budafly,” which succeeds despite Alexander’s sporadic Tourette-like babbling. Onetime Miles Davis keyboardist Robert Irving III provides appropriate Rhodes washes throughout the album and co-writes “Searchin’,” a piece reminiscent of ’60s-era Miles. Saxophonists Barantz, Kevin Nabors and Jabari Liu appear on various tracks, contributing strong frontline support and solos.

Originally published in November 2008
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