Until It’s Time — MaxJazz Records (http://maxjazz.com)
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 (producer, guitar [3,12]); Samuel Torres ( percussion ).
Guitarist Jack Wilkins (http://jackwilkins.com) has built up an impressive discography over four decades. He has had collaborations with Charles Mingus, Michael and Randy Brecker, Stan Getz, Phil Woods, Chet Baker, Jimmy Raney, Bob Brookmeyer, Buddy Rich, and some of the greatest singers like Sarah Vaughan, Mel Torme, Ray Charles, Tony Bennett, Manhattan Transfer, and others. In the liner notes of his 1978 album “The Bob Brookmeyer Small Band: Live at Sandy’s”, Brookmeyer calls Wilkins “the most imaginative guitarist to have emerged since Jim Hall”.
Before this new CD, Wilkins’ last recording with a group was back in 2000, and was a reunion of the stellar group that played on his 1977 releases “Merge” and “You Can’t Live Without It” featuring Michael and Randy Brecker. Those of us, who have been marveling at his playing every Tuesday night at his duo gig at the “Bella Luna” restaurant on the upper-west-side of Manhattan, know that Wilkins is at the peak of his technique and creativity, and we hope we will not have to wait nine years “Until It’s Time” for another CD.
The first thing you will notice about “Until It’s Time” is that it is fun to listen to. For this album, Wilkins, with the help of producer Jeff Barone, dug deep into his vast repertoire and chose to present us with an eclectic variety of standards, pop and show tunes and even classical excerpts, all freshly arranged and masterfully recorded and mixed.
Bacharach’s “Arthur’s Theme” (from the Dudley Moore film) opens with some surprising breaks before settling into a happy samba feel with Torres’ percussion adding a nice touch to the dream-team rhythm section, as Wilkins states the theme and launches into the first of many great solos. Wilkins’ legendary guitar sound is warm and inviting, with a hint of acoustic in the mix. His solo is melodic and full of emotional intensity which is sometimes conveyed through beautifully crafted melodies, and sometimes through his signature fast flurries of notes which always come across as authentic and heartfelt.
Jon Cowherd, whose musical collaborations include the Brian Blade Fellowship, the Vanguard orchestra, John Pattatuci among others, adds a wonderful touch throughout the album. His comping behind Wilkins is supportive and attentive and his solos range from beautiful melodic statements on “Arthur’s Theme” to hard-swinging Tyner-influenced bluesy lines on “Walk Don’t Run”. Bassist Steve LaSpina has appeared on dozens of first-rate CD’s, including Wilkins’ own “Trio Art”, and graces this session with his perfectly timed and tasty bass lines and inspired solos. Drummer Mark Ferber, whose credits include Lee Konitz, Norah Jones, Larry Goldings and others, adds spice to the session with his light touch, sensitivity and hard driving swing.
“Show Me”, from the musical “My Fair Lady” is not usually considered a jazz standard, but Wilkins’ brilliant arrangement brings forth the beauty of the song and sets up one of his most exciting and exhilarating solos on the album.
James Taylor’s song “Blossom” from his 1970 “Sweet Baby James” album, stays with a light-pop feel throughout and provides a showcase for Wilkins’ bluesier side. His solo (especially the outro on the extended version) conveys so much power and emotion, more typical of rock and blues guitar than traditional jazz guitar, yet he keeps the beautiful clean tone throughout.
Johnny Smith has always been one of Wilkins’ stated influences, so it’s natural to see “Walk Don’t Run” included on the CD. The clever arrangement is different from Smith’s version on his “Kaleidoscope” album. Wilkins takes Smith’s interlude line, which is itself borrowed from a Bach invention, and extends it to fit over the bridge. The feel for the solos is a hard-bop swing feel and Wilkins’ solo reminds us how hard he can swing and how modern and innovative his playing is. There is also a brief solo guitar interlude after the bass solo which is a masterpiece in itself. Sonny Rollins’ “Airegin” is another hard-swinger taken at a similar tempo with more great post-bop statements by Wilkins and Cowherd, and some exciting trading fours with drummer Mark Ferber.
Two beautiful ballads “These Foolish Things” and “Two For The Road” give us an opportunity to enjoy some of Wilkins’ intimate harmonic magic and how much beauty he can extract from his guitar. “Until It’s Time For You To Go” is a pop ballad by Buffy Sainte-Marie, not exactly standard jazz material, but it proves to be an inspired choice. Cowherd adds a 70’s touch with his organ sound while Wilkins erupts into an acoustic solo that will leave you breathless.
“Tico Tico” has made its way into the jazz repertoire when it was recorded by Charlie Parker on “South of the Border”, but Wilkins favors more of a samba feel and, unfazed by the fast tempo, offers the listener an endless variety of perfectly conceived musical lines in his imaginative solo.
“Fur Elise”, Beethoven’s timeless melody that inexplicably attracts every new piano student to strive to master it, works perfectly as a duet between Wilkins and Cowherd before they settle into some stormy improvising over the “bridge” section. “Lauro’s Waltz” is another classical excerpt by Antonio Lauro, a Venezuelan composer considered to be one of foremost South American composers for the guitar of the 20th century. The exciting way in which the melody leads and anticipates the chord changes inspires Wilkins to a supremely melodic and memorable solo.
“Until It’s Time” is one of the most enjoyable albums I’ve heard in a long time, with broad appeal well beyond the traditional jazz audience. I hope to see it get some radio airplay and move Wilkins’ career into a new phase of increased recognition as one of the true innovators in the world of jazz guitar. And, if there are any guitar fans out there who are still not familiar with Jack Wilkins’ musical genius and stunning technique, this CD is the perfect introduction.
(Jazz Inside New York Magazine) Reviewed by Dan Adler
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