Echo of Spring
Alto saxophonist and clarinetist Chuck Wilson is a melody-based jazzman. You won’t hear a textbook approach to jazz—prescribed scales and patterns—dominating this album. Instead, there are swinging melodic variations and permutations galore. The company is compatible—guitarist Howard Alden, bassist Murray Wall, drummer Tom Melito and the late trombonist Joel Helleny—and the Arbors brand is in good hands.
The disc, recorded in 1998 and just now being released, has an easy listening quality, but in this case, “easy listening” isn’t a pejorative. Wilson’s alto can suggest Johnny Hodges (“Isfahan” and “Goodbye”) and yet he can cross over into hard-bop tunes (Lee Morgan’s “Caliso” and “The Joker”) and even Ornette Coleman (“Turnaround,” played on clarinet, and “The Blessing”) and sound at home. The title tune (originally “Echoes of Spring”), by the late stride pianist Willie “The Lion” Smith, is another example of Wilson’s clarinet playing, this time in a mellifluous arrangement that includes Diva Goodfriend-Koven’s alto flute.
Wilson’s eclecticism and joie de vivre are shared by the other players. Helleny—this was his last album—gives the impression that he could fit in with players from any era. You hear some of this on “The Joker,” among others, where he drops an odd phrase here and there among more straight-ahead lines and chases a lick or two far from its roots but nevertheless to a logical conclusion. (Helleny’s Lip Service was released on Arbors in 1997. He also recorded with Kenny Davern and Scott Hamilton for the label.) Alden, who wrote the liner notes, is a superb, quietly cooking accompanist and a most elegant and appropriate soloist. Wall and Melito match Alden’s expertise and good taste.