Wessell Anderson

Live at the Village Vanguard

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Alto saxophonist Anderson is emerging as one of the premier modern- day exponents of the Charlie Parker bebop style of jazz. Since coming out as a leader and stepping forth from his experience with Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center conclave, he continues to refine his bop chops, establishing himself as an extremely lyrical sound sculptor and a helluva swinger. The evidence of his rise to power is all in this great set of music recorded live, with the equally talented pianist Xavier Davis, bassist Steve Kirby, drummer Jaz Sawyer, and on four cuts, the welcome addition of trumpeter Irvin Mayfield. The nine-track program is complete in diversity and traditional values. Three are written by the leader: "African Cowboy" a train whistle/wah-wah melody that charges into a bop figure; "Snake Charmer," a calypso-fed rhythm with Anderson on sopranino saxophone; and "Quick Skeem" with Mayfield on an Art Blakey-ish hard bop head, relentless in pursuit of truth. Of the out-and-out boppers, "I'll Remember April" fares particularly well for 12-plus minutes, Anderson wittily adding flourishes and embellishments on top of the melody line, then Davis stating the second half of the theme before "Warmdaddy" Wes gets back to it, an excellent reinvention. On the other hand, "Now's the Time" has a slightly edited head, notes are whittled off for effect, and Anderson's highly melodic sense is clearly in the house. "Soul Eyes" is the lone ballad, done pristinely by Anderson and Davis for the long, lovely intro of an 11-plus-minute version, and the soul-jazz classics "Dis Here" and the finale "Red Top" are rendered with heartfelt respect, the latter featuring Davis on a rambunctious solo that spontaneously merges from 4/4 to 3/4. Anderson, as an improviser and tunesmith, has his ducks in a row. This is one of the better live jazz CDs of the past decade, and stands up remarkably well upon repeated listenings. In the latest Downbeat Critics Poll, Anderson does not even list in the top ranks of alto saxophonists. It's an oversight, for he clearly is one of the better players going today, and this exceptional date is highly recommended.

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