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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, Glyn Pursglove, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf

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Mack Avenue MAC1049



1. Blues on Belle Isle
2. Cass Tech
3. Detroit
4. Miss Gretchen
5. Before Motown
6. The Detroit River
7. Everywhere
8. Aram

Gerald Wilson - Composer, arranger, conductor

Tracks 1-6
Ron Barrows, Bobby Rodriguez, Jeff Kaye, Rick Baptist, Winston Byrd - Trumpets
Sean Jones - Trumpet, flugelhorn
Jackie Kelso - Alto sax, soprano sax
Randall Willis - Alto sax, flute
Carl Randall, Kamasi Washington - Tenor saxes
Louis Van Taylor - Tenor sax, baritone sax
Terry Landry - Baritone sax
Eric Jorgensen, Les Benedict, Mike Wimberly, Shaunte Palmer - Trombones
Yvette Devereaux - Violin
Brian O'Rourke - Piano
Anthony Wilson - Guitar
Trey Henry - Bass
Mel Lee - Drums

Tracks 7 and 8
Jon Faddis, Frank Greene, Sean Jones, Jimmy Owens, Terrell Stafford - Trumpets, flugelhorns
Steve Wilson, Antonio Hart - Alto sax, soprano sax, flute
Ron Blake, Kamasi Washington - Tenor saxes
Ronnie Cuber - Baritone sax
Hubert Laws - Flute
Dennis Wilson, Luis Bonilla, Jay Ashby - Trombones
Douglas Purviance - Bass trombone
Renée Rosnes - Piano
Anthony Wilson - Guitar
Peter Washington, Todd Coolman - Bass
Lewis Nash - Drums


Gerald Wilson is a well-respected composer and arranger as well as a veteran in the jazz business. He was 90 when he was asked to write this suite for the 30th anniversary of the Detroit Jazz Festival. He lived in Detroit from the age of 14 and attended the city's Cass Technical High School (to which he pays tribute in the suite). Cass Tech prepared him for playing the trumpet and arranging for Jimmie Lunceford's band from 1939 to 1942.

Even though Wilson is a renowned composer who has led several of his own big bands, I've seldom found his arrangements very exciting. I'm afraid the same is true of this album, where the compositions are hardly ground-breaking. The opening Blues on Belle Isle is a basic blues. The title-track seems to be founded entirely on pairs of notes. After a long piano introduction, Miss Gretchen is basically a series of riffs. The same might be said of The Detroit River which, after a sketchy melody, goes into a blues sequence. Before Motown is another series of riffs, although it is distinguished by its Latin-American rhythm and Bobby Rodriguez's fiery trumpet solo - portraying the days before Detroit became the home of Motown Records.

So the strength of the band is not so much in the compositions or arrangements as in the soloists. One advantage of Gerald Wilson's arrangements is that they often leave the musicians free to solo, without the encumbrance of backing section work.

Pianist Brian O'Rourke provides tasteful prefaces to several pieces, and adds a stimulating solo towards the end of Before Motown. Violinist Yvette Devereaux shines in her solos for Blues on Belle Isle and Miss Gretchen, sounding reminiscent of Jean Luc Ponty. The latter tune slows down the bouncy tempo to let Yvette play with lyrical poignancy.

The other star soloists are trumpeter Sean Jones (swirling snakily in Blues on Belle Isle) and guitarist Anthony Wilson. Anthony is Gerald Wilson's son but there's no hint of nepotism here: the son deserves the limelight he gets.

The first six tracks, recorded in Los Angeles, comprise the Detroit suite. The two remaining items were recorded in New York by a largely different band, with Hubert Laws' flute decorating Everywhere and altoist Antonio Hart soloing impressively on Aram.

Both the orchestras play Gerald Wilson's charts with polished professionalism. I just wish they had been given more adventurous material to deal with.

Tony Augarde

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