Sunny Wilkinson

High Wire

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Wilkinson has long been known as a fine straight-ahead jazz singer, though some of her previous projects were not in that vein, but more commercial. This recording pairs her with a big band and charts arranged by pianist Charlie Argersinger and husband Ron Newman. At times, the backing music shares many similar aspects with Thad Jones, Mel Lewis or Gil Evans; it is used to accent the singer, only occasionally swamping her. For the most part the music is extraordinarily inventive and artistically crafted. Wilkinson's voice is better than ever, using a slight vibrato, a non-stylized, personal approach with soulful inflections, an unbeatable, supercharged scatting, clear enunciations, and a full tone. The ten tracks here are an interesting mix of bop, pop, ballads, and modern contemporary jazz. A most impressive take on "Straight, No Chaser" has horns laying low, responding to Wilkinson's original lyric. Her "bloop bleep" scatting is as original as you'll hear, and both she and the band load up on dynamic variations. Chick Corea and Tony Cohan's title cut is a high wire act, Wilkinson's phrases soar trapeze-like, in quick 3/4 time to set up her scatting in unison with the band on the bridge -- something few singers attempt. "Love Won't Let Me Wait" takes on new post-pop afterlife. Newman's catty arrangement has the horns sneaking around Sunny, as if they're looking for a non-existent rhythm section. The orchestra acts as Basie might for the easy swinging "Exactly Like You"; the musicians hold a darker, progressive mold in the samba-based, Diddley scatted "Agua De Beber," and the swinging "Gone With The Wind." There are other outstanding players on the recording like saxophonists Gary Foster, Bill Green, and Albert Wing, guitarist Frank Potenza, trumpeter Jim Linahon, trombonist Bill Yeager, and the underrated rhythm team of bassist Lou Fischer and drummer Steve Houghton. They greatly enhance the abilities of Wilkinson, actually lifting her voice to great heights or pushing it toward even greater depths on many occasions throughout the program. Living in mid-Michigan these days, Wilkinson recorded this session in California. These West Coasters have a good feel for what she can do, and in this case that's a lot. This is easily her finest CD to date. Recommended.

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