Tenor saxophonist Brandon Wright came out of the gate locked and loaded with a big, hard-hitting, classic sound on his debut, Boiling Point, and he’s got plenty of ammo left for Journeyman. Joined by three of his associates from the Mingus Big Band—veteran pianist David Kikoski, bassist Boris Kozlov and drummer Donald Edwards—Wright blows up the modest album title. If he’s a journeyman, it’s only in his ability to move convincingly among styles.
“Shapeshifter,” one of six originals, sets the tone with its full-tilt bop swagger, rich tonality and well-timed Bird citing. Covering Pearl Jam’s “Better Man,” Wright shows off his ability to irrigate a melodic desert with compelling harmonies, and to match Eddie Vedder’s guttural intensity with his own. On another of his own tunes, “Walk of Shame,” the saxophonist gets funky à la Eddie Harris.
You keep waiting for Wright, only 30, to show signs of his age. His version of Oasis’ “Wonderwall” (previously covered by Brad Mehldau) again reveals his weakness for thin pop melodies. But his original ballad “Illusions of Light,” couldn’t be more perfectly shaped—not a wasted note. And youth couldn’t be better served than it is by his take on the Muppets theme, “He’ll Make Me Happy,” which shows off the grainy power of his tenor sound and reveals the graceful singing quality he gets in the upper-middle range. The song boasts a spirited solo by the reliable Kikoski, who has never met a young horn player whose best he can’t bring out.