Gerald-wilson_span3
November 2009

Gerald Wilson Orchestra
Detroit
Mack Avenue Records

This album documents Gerald Wilson’s six-part suite commissioned to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Detroit International Jazz Festival. It is completed by a couple of stand-alone tracks. Like most of Wilson’s big-band writing, there are long stretches for soloists and the rhythm section with minimal or no horn-section backing.

The most attractive suite performances are the title track, a big-city ballad with flute leading the ensemble and tenorman Kamasi Washington romancing the changes; and “Miss Gretchen,” a breezy arpeggio-like theme with a slower interlude, the latter voiced at one point by violinist Yvette Devereaux. “Cass Tech,” reminiscent of Benny Golson’s writing, is pretty and swinging. “Before Motown” mines Wilson’s supply of Spanish themes, and “Blues on Belle Isle” and “The Detroit River” flow from his blues dues. Wilson’s Los Angeles band recorded the suite, and his New York band recorded the final two tracks (updates of his “Everywhere” and “Aram,” tunes he originally recorded on Pacific Jazz in the mid-’60s).

The soloists include trumpeter Sean Jones, pianist Brian O’Rourke and guitarist Anthony Wilson, the leader’s son. Washington and his section-mate, tenorman Louis Van Taylor, also make strong impressions. Ms. Devereaux cooks with a delightfully earthy outing on “The Detroit River.” Guest flutist Hubert Laws lives up to his considerable reputation on “Everywhere.”

Wilson’s chord progressions, chord voicings and rhythmic figures for the ensemble are strong characteristics of his writing. He also has a flair for atmospheric themes. One could quibble about the combo-esque strings of solos and the scarcity of ensemble interludes. Nevertheless, his writing style continues to serve him well.

Originally published in November 2009
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