Review of ‘The Reprieve’ by John Kelman (ejazznews/jazzreview/jazzviews)
For those who subscribe to the opinion that Europeans can’t swing and groove in jazz, they’d be hard pressed to find a better example that refutes this mistaken belief than guitarist Blake Wilner’s latest disk, The Reprieve. Comprised of musicians from Australia, Britain and Denmark, this album covers a lot of territory, but throughout it all there is a pervasive adherence to the so-called “American Tradition” while, at the same time, displaying something of a European sensibility.
Wilner, an Australian ex-pat who has relocated to Britain, contributes six refreshingly original tunes to the programme, which also includes unique covers of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” and Tom Waits’ “Take Me Home.”
Wilner must take some pleasure in deception; the first two tracks on the CD, the lightly swinging “New York Trilogy” and the tender ballad, “Women”, lead one to believe that this will be an album of modern post-bop. With a warm tone and relaxed feel that is reminiscent of Jim Hall, Wilner leads the quartet with a strongly lyrical sensibility, and solos that feature both fluid single-note lines and rich chordal passages.
Then comes the introduction to the group’s cover of Marley’s “Redemption Song.” With delays on both the guitar and saxophone, the piece starts with a repetitive melodic figure that breaks down into a free passage where Wilner kicks in the distortion; Bassist Oil Hayhurst then introduces the body of the song, which, while treated as a ballad, remains with a contemporary sound that has traces of Bill Frisell, with its use of reverse delay and “Americana” feel. Saxophonist Simon Allen delivers a solo that builds from a languorous beginning to a fever-pitched middle before breaking down for the song’s end.
“Adams ‘47” has some elements of minimalism which ties it to its source, composer John Adams. With deceptively simple changes that ultimately reveal a richer layer, Wilner delivers one his strongest solos of the set. “The Reprieve” centres on an ostinato figure that fluctuates in intensity as Wilner alternates between his warm and overdriven sounds; Allen uses multiphonics and delay on his tenor solo to create a larger sense of drama. “Scip,” is a lightly funky tune inspired by John Scofield’s Groove Elation period. Drummer Jacob Smedegaard and Hayhurst keep the groove greasy throughout; Wilner continues to demonstrate his diversity with a down-and-dirty solo.
Throughout the album, through his compositions and his playing, Wilner shows how a diversity of influences can be melded into a singular sound; while his roots are varied, Wilner’s playing has clear focus.
The Blake Wilner Quartet is a showcase for a group of young up-and-comers on the European jazz scene. They completed a UK tour in 2003 before recording this album and it shows. There is a sense of interplay that can only come from an intimate knowledge of each other’s musical approaches. With The Reprieve, Blake Wilner shows that the term “American Tradition” is a misnomer; while jazz roots began, unquestionably, on American soil, artists from around the world are now assimilating these roots with their own experiences, their own folk traditions, to create something altogether new.
The Reprieve was released in January,2004 on Ant Records.