Sunday, March 4, 2012

Jack Wilkins - The Blue & Green Project

Summit Records - DCD 572

If you've been waiting for a jazz album that'll get you excited about current jazz - look no further. This is an extremely successful project melding a unique and fresh vision with high caliber jazz talent; and there is no shortage of gusto, exciting solos and memorable melodies. Wilkins' fusion of two unlikely bedfellows: Jazz and Appalachian Mountain culture, not only works but impresses; at times subtly, with unison ensembles of violin, tenor sax and guitar, winding around intricate yet ear-friendly jazz lines based on folksy scales & harmonies ("Two Views of a Mountain").

The album is literally bursting with expressive artistry from every soloist - Wilkins is at once both cerebral and emotionally convincing, coming out of the gate a bit like Coltrane on "Song of the Anvil" - which might have the catchiest blues head of the millennium, shaped as it is out of a field recording of two blacksmiths hammering on an anvil.

Equally impressive are the two guitarists featured throughout, Corey Christiansen and LaRue Nickelson, sometimes in bluesy or folk manner, often in jazz and even fusion (Nickelson on "Mountain Watercolors" a large ensemble piece). Sara Caswell represents jazz violin in a bettering fashion, and both trombonists are compellingly sassy (Keith Oshiro and Tom Brantley). Jon Metzger on marimba & vibes is a nice touch on a few tracks (including the funky "River Run"), and the rhythm section of Per Danielson, Mark Neuenschwander and Danny Gottlieb is all but unbeatable.

Coal minor blues, mountain death ballads, and even New Orleans style ("Black Bucket Stomp") poke through on distinctive tracks, making the album endlessly interesting and fun, with the language of jazz bringing cohesiveness and verve. Authentic instrumentation (claw hammer banjo, resonator and baritone guitar) adds to the sonic intrigue. Wilkins' arranging for the bigger band tracks is top notch: sweet & imaginative, occasionally revealing a sort of modern jazz extension upon  classic impressionism.

There is no skimping on the cd packaging, with extensive liner notes explaining the compositions, the culture, and pointing out the soloists; along with some blissful photography and artwork. This is a sit down and enjoy kind of album; you will never be bored or overwhelmed with headiness, but you will DIG it. - PCJ

Jack Wilkins is the Director of Jazz Studies at the University of South Florida in Tampa. Visit his website here.

click here to order a copy of this excellent music!!
 ($16.99 + free shipping)

review copyright 2012 Kenny MacKenzie

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