The great Jack Wilkins is one of those iconic Jazz Guitarists, who has been around for at least four decades, yet, through no fault of his own, has not become a house-hold name, except amongst the legion of jazz musicians, guitarists and otherwise, who are in the know. With the release of Jack’s Until It’s Time this may very well change.
The first thing that struck me after my initial listen to Until It’s Time is that it is much more radio friendly than previous CD’s. This is not to say that Jack has gone the way of the smooth jazz artist, quite the contrary actually, as there is some heavy duty playing from both Jack and the guys that you would be hard pressed to find on the majority of smooth radio stations. What is a tad different on this CD is Jack’s attention to the power of melody, either through his choice of tunes, or when he’s blowing. And while there is a bunch of sizzling solos that remind us that yes, this is very much a Jack Wilkins session, there appears to be a more settled Jack Wilkins at the helm.
Kicking off the CD in style is Jack’s own take of the Christopher Cross pop hit “Arthur’s Theme”, from the 80’s smash hit movie Arthur. Arranged with a seductive Latin feel, everyone’s foot should be tapping from the first note to the last. Pianist Jon Cowherd, bassist Steve LaSpina, drummer Mark Ferber and percussionist Samuel Torres, keep the groove bright and lively as Jack does his thing with the main melody before heading into a gorgeous solo that showcases Jack’s intuitive melodic invention and envious technique.
Jon Cowherd gets to shine as well with a grand bit of blowing that proves to be a strong complement to Jack’s playing. Cowherd then sets up a beautiful solo intro to the My Fair Lady tune “Show Me” that is aurally captivating and emotionally delicate. Jack weaves through the tune with fleet fingers, chasing the changes as only Jack can. A masterful interpretation!
Of course, it goes without saying that this level of skill remains throughout the whole album with Jack and Cowherd providing the bulk of the solos, while LaSpina and Ferber get to shine on a few tracks. Mind you, they shine all the time as they provide fervent and stalwart support for all. Check out their version of the Sonny Rollins classic “Airegin” for an in-depth example of how they listen and follow along with each other as each player gets to blow a chorus or two. A great tune!
And speaking of tunes, there are a few surprises on this CD that need to be mentioned: James Taylor’s “Blossom” is one of them**, along with Buffy St. Marie’s “Until It’s Time For You To Go”. This takes us back to the whole melody aspect behind this CD as these two tunes speak volumes about melody and feel. Of special note, co-producer and a great guitarist in his own right, Jeff Barone joins Jack on “Blossom” playing a nice acoustic steel-string intro, then keeps the rhythm flowing throughout the tune as Jack plays some very tasty and fast runs throughout. James Taylor would be proud I’m sure!
Other cool surprises on Until It’s Time include a nice rendition of the Beethoven masterpiece “Fur Elise” as the familiar theme is played pretty straight before Jack and the boys swing it sweetly. The Johnny Smith classic “Walk Don’t Run” also gets a classical sounding style intro before they kick it into the swing. A great version, which at times had me thinking of Dave Brubeck’s classic “Time Out” period. LaSpina showcases a great solo while Ferber’s high hat keeps the swing intact! Jack also gets a nice chordal solo break towards the end of the tune which reminds us that he’s not just all about the burn.
Sticking with the classical theme, Jack’s composition “Lauro’s Waltz” is a nice blend of the Antonio Lauro “Venezuelan Waltz #3” main melody alongside Jack’s jazzy arrangement. Some really great playing by all concerned with a nice bass solo from LaSpina.
There are also a couple of slower tunes on the CD that allows the listener to catch their breath. The beautiful “These Foolish Things” is played with reverence to the original composer, while “Two For The Road” opens with a stunning chord melody intro that harkens back to Lenny Breau replete with shimmering harmonics and legato runs before the group comes in softly. Just lovely!
One more tune needs to be mentioned before I wrap this up and that tune is “Tico Tico”, the Brazilian choro tune. Taking this tune from the Frank Vignola play-book, Jack and the group come out of the gate running at blazing speed with great playing from all. If this tune is as fun playing as it is hearing, then everyone must have had a ball playing this piece in the studio.
So there you have it. Until It’s Time is definitely a CD that any Jazz Guitar student or fan should have in their collection or on their MP3 play-list. Jack Wilkins is the real deal when it comes to important Jazz Guitarists and as such, should be checked out both on record and live. After all, it’s the least we can do for all his years of service to this time-honored music. Thank you Jack!
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Review-"Until It's Time"