Fresh, new talent worth listening to is often hard to spot. Good thing the folks at jazz label Posi-Tone Records specialize in bringing to our attention promising young talent who will keep the flame of jazz going for another generation. Their issuance yesterday of the first album by saxophonist Brandon Wright is the first step in a long, satisfying solo career, but it's also another hopeful sign that jazz will remain vital and alive for years more to come.
Wright didn't get to this point without already proving himself many times over as both a performer and composer. A cum laude grad of the University of Miami, he racked up numerous awards before he even graduated in 2005 (Down Beat Winner for Best College Jazz Ensemble, Winner of the North American Saxophone Alliance Jazz Saxophone Competition). From there, he's cut his teeth playing in the bands of Maria Schneider, Chuck Mangione and Doc Severinsen before fronting small combos, usually a quartet, and playing in the hottest jazz venues of NYC. During this time, Wright's also honed his skills as a composer (2009 ASCAP Young Jazz Composer). At 27 years old, he has been more than ready to make his recording debut as a leader.
Putting forth that first step in a debut album is critical to get down right, and Wright left nothing to chance when it came down to choosing his bandmates. His solid rhythm section of David Kikoski on piano, Hans Glawischnig on bass and the eminent Matt Wilson on drums have all gigged in Wright's band for several years now. For his front-line foil, Wright chose the Russian-born trumpet whiz Alex Sipiagin from the Dave Holland Sextet. In short, Wright managed to assemble the right bundle of musicians to play out his mix of five originals and three covers comprising a sharp, straightforward set of acoustic jazz. For this maiden release, Wright himself sticks with tenor saxophone.
Free Man" starts off on the good foot, containing some smooth unison lines between Wright and Sipiagin and well structured solos by each. Sipiagin is every bit the exciting young trumpter he's been lauded for being, but Wright is keeping right up with him. For the hot bopping title song (see promo video below), Wright has taken a page from the playbook of the masters and maintained a lot of soul in his improvisation even as he's blowing hard and furious. I particularly like the squonks he tosses in at the end that add, not distract, from the groove. That's Joe Henderson kind of sorcery, there.
As a composer, Wright's got skills there, too, and no other song from this album demonstrates it better than the meloncholy Drift." Sporting sophisticated but naturally flowing harmonic lines, it's a song that one could easily imagine it being written by Herbie Hancock or Wayne Shorter sometime during the mid-sixties. Among the covers, You're My Everything" is a standout for it's firm swing (not unlike's Freddie Hubbard's 1962 version), Kikoski's unhurried style on his piano solo and Wright's smokey sax for his own solo that follows.
This week is no doubt a memorable one for Brandon Wright as he adds his first entry in the great, vast catalog of jazz records. For fans of straight-ahead jazz, it should be a week to remember, too, as this marks the beginning of a career they should keep close tabs on.
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