This is how sax master Steve Wilson describes the origins of Wilsonian’s Grain, the ensemble of old friends formed back in 2008. He was interested in revisiting some of his earlier work that he felt could use some further exploration, he explains, with what he calls “a new band of old friends. It’s like putting on old socks with new shoes.” While I’m not quite sure I buy the analogy, I am quite sure I buy the music. That is if the quartet’s debut album, a live set recorded last May at New York’s legendary Village Vanguard, is any indication of what they are capable of. Forgive me but, I’m tempted to say the shoes fit, and resisting temptation was never my strong point.
Steve Wilson & Wilsonian’s Grain Live in New York: The Vanguard Sessions, set for release in March, has Wilson heading up a talented crew of inventive musicians including pianist Orrin Evans, bassist Ugonna Okegwo, and drummer Bill Stewart in a seven-track bop attack built atop the musical foundation laid down by the giants of the past. Wilson’s “old shoes” can stand with the best. Listen to Evans’ piano on his original composition “Spot It You Got It.” Listen to Stewart’s killer solo work on Joe Chamber’s “Patterns” which closes the album. Listen to Okegwo on Wilson’s “Perry Street.” They do great solo work throughout, but when they work together, they shine.
Thelonious Monk’s “Well You Needn’t” makes for a powerful opening number and sets the tone for the rest of the set. Wilson and the Grain take no prisoners. The track opens with the bass, and then the sax takes the theme, while the drums drive the action. It is an explosive performance, with some stunning solo work from Wilson and Evans. Wilson’s original pieces, “Chrysalis” and “Spheresophically” and Migiwa Miyajima’s “If I Were a Wind of Spring” complete the hour-long set.
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