Eric Wyatt Returns to Celebrate Sonny

For Sonny - Eric Wyatt

WP 2019 - 2THE GOLDEN RULE: FOR SONNY / WYATT: The Golden Rule (for Sonny Rollins).1,6,9 In the Spirit of Arthur (for Arthur Rhames).1,6,9 BACHARACH-DAVID: What the World Needs Now.2,5,10 ROLLINS: Grand Street.1,6,11 Don’t Stop the Carnival.4,6,,9 Best Wishes.1,6,11 Azalea.1,6,9 The Bridge. 1,6,8,9 LERNER-LOEWE: If Ever I Would Leave You.5,10 COREA: Bud Powell.2,3,5,,10 HICKS: After the Morning (for Roy Hargrove).3,5,7,10 TYNER: Nubia1,6,9 / Eric Wyatt, t-sax/fl/voc/bells/perc; 3Giveton Gelon, tpt; 4Clifton Anderson, tb; 8J.D. Allen, t-sax; 1Benito Gonzales, 2Anthony Wonsey, 7Sullivan Fortner, pno; Russell Malone, gtr; 5Tyler Mitchell, bs; 6Eric Wheeler, el-bs; 9Charles Goold, 10Willie Jones III, 11Chris Beck, dm / Whaling City Sound WCS117

I last encountered tenor saxist Eric Wyatt in October of 2017, when I reviewed his CD Look to the Sky, and was very impressed by what I heard. To refresh the reader’s memory, Wyatt’s father was also a tenor saxist and a friend of Sonny Rollins; he called his son Eric “the Godson of Sonny Rollins.” But Wyatt was a close friend of Arthur Rhames, who introduced him to John Coltrane, thus he has always felt the dual pull of these two great tenor saxists of the 1950s and ‘60s.

This release is unashamedly dedicated to Rollins, and as a result features five of the famous saxophonist’s pieces—yet there is also an original piece written as a tribute to Rhames as well as McCoy Tyner’s Nubia, written for Coltrane.

The opener, Wyatt’s The Golden Rule (for Sonny) is very much in the older saxist’s 1950s post-Bop style, a charming piece in which Wyatt does indeed channel the feeling of his early idol. I particularly love Wyatt’s full, rich tone and (pardon the expression) no-nonsense approach to improvising; he doesn’t resort to tricks, squeals or other non-musical ephemera in order to make his points. Piano Benito Gonzales is a good, straightahead bop pianist who also doesn’t resort to tricks, and his playing is lively if not quite on the same high level as the leader. We then hear a three-way chase chorus between Wyatt, Gonzales and drummer Charles Goold that is utterly delightful. The band’s rendition of What the World Needs Now completely transforms this banal tune into something noble and unsentimental; in this track, we switch pianists, and I personally found Anthony Wonsey a more interesting improviser than Gonzales.

Rollins’ Grand Street is up next, a fairly straightahead bop swinger except that there seems to be an extra beat per bar in the introductory theme before switching to a straight 4 when Wyatt begins his solo. I apologize for the game of musical chairs played here by the band, but it’s always a little confusing for the reviewer when a bandleader uses three different pianists, two different bassists and three different drummers on the same set of recordings. Gonzales is back on piano here, and I found his playing more interesting and inventive than in the first. Trumpeter Giveton Gelon also makes his first appearance in this piece, playing crisp lines within a fairly narrow range of notes but making a telling statement nonetheless.

Wyatt opens If Ever I Would Leave You playing very low down in his tenor range, producing a darker, almost “square” tone with his instrument, and he turns this sappy Lerner and Loewe ballad into a Latin swinger. This cut, too, gives us our first glimpse of guitarist Russell Malone, and thank God he is a real JAZZ guitarist, not a rock screamer, yet he plays with guts and excellent improvisatory skills. Tyler Mitchell, on acoustic bass, turns in an excellent solo as guitar and tenor sax play lightly behind him. Wyatt’s own solo follows, now higher in his range and using more rhythmic than harmonic devices, although he does toss in some nice chromatic changes and, at one point, a Coltrane-like lick.

On Chick Corea’s Bud Powell, we hear pianist Anthony Wonsey play a slow, almost rhapsodic introduction before tenor sax and trumpet play the attractive theme in unison. The latter’s solo, which sounds either muted or played on a flugelhorn, is very fluent and somewhat resembles the earlier-bop-styled Miles Davis. Interestingly, it is on this track that Wyatt sounds his most Coltrane-like, emulating the earlier saxist’s tubular sound and unusual use of rhythm in his solo. Wonsey follows with a fine if somewhat less intense solo than the sort that Powell was known for. Trumpet and tenor sax then return to play the theme in the rideout.

Rollins’ Don’t Stop the Carnival is a fun piece, played with brio by Wyatt and trombonist Clifton Anderson, with fine support from the rhythm section (here including Russell Malone’s guitar). Anderson’s solo is the rough-and-ready kind of playing that descends from such earlier players as J.C. Higginbotham, but with some fancy triple-tonguing thrown in. Tenor and trombone then engage in a nice chase chorus. John Hicks’ After the Morning starts out as a fairly quiet duet between Wyatt and pianist Sullivan Fortner before Gelon enters, playing a very Roy Hargrove-ish solo. Following this is Rollins’ Best Wishes, another fine bop piece, again with Anderson on trombone and, here, Gonzalez playing a fluid and fluent piano solo of great imagination. Wyatt’s solo on this one contains elements of both of his idols, Rollins and Coltrane.

Not surprisingly, In the Spirit of Arthur, dedicated to the man who introduced him to Coltrane, is is Trane’s style all the way, and quite a good imitation it is, too. He continues in this vein in McCoy Tyner’s Nubia as well. Gonzales turns in another fine solo on the latter. Rollins’ Azalea is a rousing performance, full of energy and good cheer, with Wyatt and Anderson playing the opening chorus together before the leader takes off on tenor.

We wrap up this outstanding set with a rousing version of Rollins’ The Bridge, on which Wyatt is joined by fellow-tenor saxist J.D. Allen. The two of them really tear it up here while the rhythm section (Gonzales, Wheeler and Goold) cook behind them. Gonzales’ solo is truly on fire here, too!

This is a truly excellent set by Eric Wyatt and his multi-personnel band(s), highly recommended!

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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Read my book, From Baroque to Bop and Beyond: An extended and detailed guide to the intersection of classical music and jazz


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