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Bert Wilson and Rebirth: Endless Fingers

A true multi-instrumentalist, possessing distinctive voices on soprano, alto, and tenor saxophones, as well as bass clarinet, Bert Wilson may very well be the jazz rediscovery of 1997. His scant discography includes ESP and Arhoolie rarities led by Sonny Simmons, Smiley Winters, and Zitro (!)-he was also a member of the adventurous Now Creative Arts Ensemble. Subsequent to his ’79 move to Olympia, Washington, he released just a couple of LPs on the Seattle AuRoar label, which are well worth the hunt. His career has been hampered by his lack of mobility-now approaching sixty, Wilson has been confined to a wheelchair since he contracted polio at age four.

Endless Fingers promises to raise his too low profile, as it is brimming with spirited, inventive, and satisfying writing and playing.

Wilson wrote the entire program, displaying an impressive compositional range. He has a considerable talent in making hard swinging tunes from shifting harmonic and rhythmic patterns, unusual phrase lengths, and acutely angular lines. Few writers have Wilson’s facility in slipping in a 12-tone row into a avant-toe tapper like “Rolling Cycles,” or splicing strands from “Over the Rainbow” and “Valse Hot” into an original like “Dee Dee’s Rainbow.” Fewer can evoke the spirit of other jazz mavericks without copping their licks; on “Once is Never Enough,” dedicated to Steve Lacy, Wilson evokes the envelope-pushing propulsion of Lacy’s ’70s quintet without using Lacy’s thematic trademarks; in a more mainstream vein, “Onslaught,” one of two tracks to feature another Olympia legend, tenorist Chuck Stentz (he replaced Getz in the ’55 Herman Herd), captures the zeal of a tenor tag-team without explicitly referencing Ammons-Stitt, Cohn-Sims, et al.

The varied writing works hand in glove with Wilson’s versatility as a soloist. He is one of the bass clarinetists to come along since Dolphy, possessing a similar blend of eruptive passion and lucid lyricism. Though his alto solos have Dolphy-like voltage spikes, Wilson’s sound is far less astringent. His work on tenor and soprano work is distinguished by judicious use of multiphonics and double stops. He is constantly spurred on by an excellent quintet. Flutist Nancy Curtis is a find; her fluidity, tone control, and resourcefulness make her the perfect front line partner for Wilson’s reed arsenal.

Pianist Craig Hoyer, drummer Bob Meyer, and bassists Dan Schulte and Peter Vinikow (Sculte plays on eight cuts, Vinikow four) have plenty of fire.

Originally Published