Gerald Wilson Orchestra,
New York, New Sound
(Mack Avenue, 2003)

Though Gerald Wilson is a name with which some jazz buffs might not be familiar, he has had an enormous effect on the music with over 65 years of arranging, composing and band leading. From his early years playing in and providing material to the Jimmie Lunceford band, Wilson has had a long and illustrious career, spending most of his time in the L.A. music scene. He recently returned to New York City long enough to put together the Gerald Wilson New York Orchestra, one of the most kickass bands ever heard, an assemblage of 25 top jazz performers who blend together seamlessly in one of the most solid big band albums to come along in a long time.

It's hard to see how it could miss. The 85-year-old (at the time of recording) Wilson's composing and arranging skills don't seem to have flagged a bit, and the band includes top-notch soloists like Clark Terry, Jon Faddis, Eddie Henderson, Jimmy Heath, Frank Wess, Kenny Barron and Renee Rosnes, as well as great session players and top-notch rhythm sections (Lewis Nash and Stix Hooper split the drum duties).

Eight of the 10 tunes are Wilson originals, but the first is a propulsive "Milestones," which features a pungent trumpet solo by Jimmy Owens, some marvelous counterpoint with the staccato lines of the melody going shoulder to shoulder against the legato and a highly effective use of the soundstage. At the final chorus the band's sound swells like the ocean. Kenny Barron kicks off Wilson's "Blues for the Count" with a delightfully Basiesque solo, and Clark Terry again proves himself the most vocal of trumpet soloists. The whole band doesn't enter until much later in the proceedings, and when they do it's as smooth as silk stockings. When they go out, however, it's with a communal roar. The second non-Wilson composition is Coltrane's "Equinox," in which Benny Powell's trombone blends "Why Don't You Do Right" into the mix before being joined in a dialogue with three other trombones. Jay Brandford's baritone sax adds a gutsy commentary.

It's all Wilson from here on, with the Latin-inflected "Viva Tirado," followed by a slow ballad, "Teri," featuring Wilson's son Anthony playing expressive and lovely guitar. There's a sprightly yet bittersweet jazz waltz in "Blues for Yna Yna," which features some intriguing voicings, and then a 15-minute suite, "Theme for Monterey." Despite the west coast imprimatur, it fits well into the New York scene, sounding like the theme from a noir movie. Jesse Davis's alto perfectly sets the "She walked into my office..." mood. Renee Rosnes's billowing piano solo is a standout in the "Lyons Roar" section of the suite.

Wilson is back with a Latin flavor in "M Capetillo," featuring a soulful Eddie Henderson solo and guest Oscar Castro-Neves on guitar. "Josefina" again shows Wilson's skill with ballads, the band entering with an almost Ellingtonian arpeggio. Jimmy Heath provides the wistful tenor solo. The CD ends on an up note with the punchy "Nancy Jo" and classic bop-tinged solos by Sean Jones on trumpet and Jesse Davis on alto.

If you have an ear for modern big band jazz, look no further. The years have only honed Gerald Wilson's compositional and arranging skills. This is timeless music, and should sound as good 50 years from now as it does today. Long may Wilson reign!

- Rambles
written by Chet Williamson
published 24 July 2004

Buy it from