Steve Wilson & Wilsonian’s Grain: Live in New York - The Vanguard Sessions


Gleaned from a week’s worth of live gigs at NYC’s famed Village Vanguard venue in May, 2014, Steve Wilson & Wilsonian’s Grain, Live in New York: The Vanguard Sessions, a subtitle pregnant with dual or triple significance, insists at one level that we may be (and to judge from the results released here on Random Act Records, wishfully are) at the forefront of more recordings to come from this powerfully swinging and energetic unit.

Few jazz albums burst out of the blocks with such joyous, soulful force as does this one. At the starter’s pistol firing, the quartet of Steve Wilson, alto and soprano sax, pianist Orrin Evans, bassist Ugonna Okegwo and drummer Bill Stewart launch into Thelonious Monk’s “Well, You Needn’t;” it’s the musical equivalent of a sprinter’s perfectly synchronized-in-body-and-mind, full-tilt, no let-up dash to victory.

After setting such a blistering pace, sprinters need a walk off to cool down, and the walking tempo set by Orrin Evan’s “Spot It You Got It” begins to provide that, with “Chrysalis,” the first of three consecutive Wilson-penned numbers, bathing in the now-relaxed, decompressed glow of victory at race end.

We now come to find ourselves in our victorious runner’s guise at the post-race elation phase. Named for a cross street of the Vanguard locale, “Perry Street” is marked by a confident buoyancy, with Mr. Wilson’s alto singing of soul-satisfying joy.

Monk's immense influence comes to the fore again on “Spheresophically,” invoked in the work’s title and felt in its intuited bounce and dance; with Orrin Evans’ opening solo catching and disseminating Monk’s spirit, one can almost picture Monk himself arising from the piano to dance to this tune. Steve Wilson’s alto solo offers an equally invigorating take on the Monkian spirit dance. The champion sprinter’s blissful mindset sums up “If I Were A Wind In Spring,” while the late, great drummer Joe Chambers' 1968 tune, “Patterns,” in similar mode to the high energy opener, seems a replay of the race just run and won, while simultaneously singing of future, thrilling races to come.

Of course, the sprinter’s mind and body would fail to work right without the proper functioning of the machine’s heart and soul, that being the rhythm section of Mssrs. Okegwo and Stewart, whose combination of sturdy support and remarkably effective propulsion never relents. In listening you’ll barely break a sweat, but the experience itself will leave you breathless.

Steve Wilson & Wilsonian's Grain: If I Were a Wind of Spring