“Jack has CDs. I always think that sounds like a disease,” quipped 606 Club proprietor Steve Rubie at the conclusion of Jack Wilkins’ first set. For several decades Wilkins has been the yardstick against which ambitious younger New York guitarists measure themselves. An outstanding technician he swings at any tempo and never runs out of ideas. He is a master of dynamics – at times strumming chords with the energy of a London Underground busker and later drawing out harmonic beauty from a near-forgotten standard in a solo interpretation at whisper level. Unlike most of his contemporaries such as Jim Hall, John Scofield, John Abercrombie and Mike Stern, Jack did not pursue record deals and international touring opportunities but chose to make his career largely in New York; playing, teaching and making the occasional appearance on high-profile albums.
Slow, moody chordal work on Henry Mancini’s ‘Dreamsville’ gave way to outstanding solos by Wilkins, pianist Gareth Williams and bassist Simon Woolf. Following Oscar Pettiford’s ‘Tricotism’ at a bright tempo, the others left Wilkins by himself on the stand for a wistful solo interpretation of Mancini’s ‘Two for the Road’. Winston Clifford on drums shone throughout whether trading eights with Wilkins on ‘Nobody But Me’, or soloing on a fast bebop piece, but his tour de force was a medium tempo blues where, unruffled by Wilkins spiky, loud blues licks, he sang a wordless blues vocal, quietly and without hurry or histrionics, enrapturing both Wilkins and the audience.
Guitarist Pete Rubie, brother of Steve, a New York resident for over 30 years and long-time associate of Wilkins, completed the quintet. A fine player, he wisely avoided competing with Wilkins virtuosity but laid down subtle lines in his solos and clear comping behind Wilkins. Special mentions for Simon Woolf’s excellent bowed melody on ‘Spring is Here’, and Gareth Williams for inspiring Wilkins with his accompaniments and fine solos throughout the evening but for his empathy with the guitarist on their duo feature, Irving Berlin’s slow waltz, ‘Remember’. Altogether a fine showcase for Jack Wilkins who clearly enjoyed playing with his London quintet, it would be good to hear him more often in the UK.
– Charles Alexander
The photo shows me, Steven Rubie, Peter Rubie on the guitar, Simon Woolf (Bass). Gareth Williams (Piano) is barely visible as is drummer Winston Clifford.
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