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Jack Wilkins: Artwork

Tenor sax man Jack Wilkins is a bruising player who swings from the heels up. Although doubling as a professor of jazz at the University of South Florida, there’s nothing academic about his playing. Indeed, while jazz educators are often correctly accused of instilling (and exemplifying) a play-by-the-numbers approach to “improvisation,” what’s so refreshing about Wilkins is his emotional directness. Like another Florida band director who also did a bit of playing, Wilkins, in spirit and sound, recalls the indomitable Cannonball Adderley.

Wilkins’ robustness as a player extends to his group. Indeed, in lines like “Artwork,” one is reminded of the classic hard-bop groups recorded by Blue Note in the 1960s. There’s an edgy energy that never lets up. Things are loose yet tight. They also keep shifting. On the minor modal “Warsaw,” Wilkins lets loose an icy wail recalling Nordic tenor titan Jan Garbarek. Then, presto, with “Lady Bug,” Wilkins moves to a galvanizing post-bop approach a la Brecker and Lovano. The cast varies from track to track. And while everyone deserves credit, guitarist Barry Greene, pianist Clay Perry and drummer Adam Nusbaum are especially strong.

Originally Published