By Tom Greenland
Jack Wilkins and Mike Stern are guitar stars of the first magnitude: both accomplished composers, sensitive accompanists and, above all, creative and distinctive improvisers. Releases from each veteran demonstrates why their peers hold them in high esteem.
Wilkins, the elder by almost a decade, makes his MAXJAZZ debut with Until It's Time, a motley collection that includes movie themes, jazz standards, a couple of folk-rock covers and even an arrangement of Beethoven's "Für Elise". The acoustic-electric guitarist favors a finely burnished sound straight out of the tradition that, despite its compact dynamic range, produces infinite subtle variations of volume and tone. Wilkins' solos are replete with detail and ornamentation, logical sequencing and tasteful chord passages, mixing burning speed with broad lyricism. His unaccompanied spots on Johnny Smith's "Walk Don't Run" and Henry Mancini's "Two for the Road" are inventive and poetic. A pastiche of musical styles, the disc flirts with crossover accessibility but should satisfy purist fans as well.
Big Neighborhood follows the trajectory of Stern's previous work but includes some surprises. Like Wilkins, he shares an affinity for the musical vocabulary of postbop but Stern's style hews closer to rock. A collection of sessions featuring different groups of players and personalities, the disc displays the guitarist's trademark 'wet' overdrive tone, compositions with serpentine melodies underpinned by pastel harmonies and solos that range from delicately bent notes to blazing bebop passages. Many of Stern's usual collaborators are here: Bob Malach (tenor), Jim Beard (keyboards), Lincoln Goines and Richard Bona (bass) and Dave Weckl (drums). Two tracks feature 'stunt' guitarist extraordinaire Steve Vai, whose dexterous whammy-bar and ebullient sense of humor prove a perfect foil for the leader. Other highlights include three tracks with Terri Lyne Carrington (drums) and Esperanza Spalding (bass/vocals), the latter doubling the guitar melody with agile vocalese, and two tracks with Medeski, Martin & Wood, loose-tight funk workouts. Some of the best moments occur in outro blowing sections where Stern trades ideas with fellow guitarists Vai and Eric Johnson or keyboardist John Medeski in a series of friendly but fiery musical 'duels.'
Tracks & Personnel
"Until It's Time"
Tracks: Arthur's Theme; Show Me; Blossom; Walk Don't Run; These Foolish Things; Lauro's Waltz; Two for the Road; Fur Elise; Tico Tico; Airegin; Until It's Time for You to Go; Blossom (extended version).
Personnel: Jack Wilkins: guitar; Jon Cowherd: piano & organ; Steve LaSpina: bass; Mark Ferber: drums; Jeff Barone: rhythm guitar; Samuel Torres: percussion.
Tracks: Big Neighborhood; 6th Street; Reach; Song for Pepper; Coupe de ville; Bird Blue; Moroccan Roll; Long Time Gone; Check One; That's All It Is; Hope You Don't Mind.
Personnel: Jim Beard: piano, keyboards, Hammond organ; Cindy Blackman: drums; Richard Bona: bass, vocals; Randy Brecker: trumpet; Terri Lyne Carrington: drums; Lionel Cordew: drums; Chris Minh Doky: bass; Bob Franceschini: tenor sax; Lincoln Goines: drums; Eric Johnson: guitar; Bob Malach: tenor sax; Billy Martin: drums; John Medeski: Hammond organ, Wurlitzer piano, clavinet; Esperanza Spaulding: bass, vocals; Steve Vai: guitar; Dave Weckl: drums; Chris Wood: electric & acoustic bass.
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