Don Wilkerson

The Texas Twister

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Don Wilkerson was among the unsung heroes of the tenor sax. Although he backed heavyweights like B.B. King and Ray Charles, the improviser's own albums aren't nearly as well known as they should be. But those who were hip to Wilkerson swore by him, and one of his allies was alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderley. It was in 1960 that Adderley produced The Texas Twister, Wilkerson's first album as a leader. The tenor man (who was 27 at the time) shows a lot of promise on this album, embracing standards as well as bop-oriented material by Adderley, pianist Barry Harris, and obscure Texas musician Jim Martin. As its title indicates, The Texas Twister has a strong Lone Star influence. Wilkerson was born in Louisiana, but Houston, TX, was his adopted home -- and the Texas tenor tradition had a major impact on his playing. Like Arnett Cobb, David "Fathead" Newman, James Clay, and other tenor men who have lived in the Lone Star State, Wilkerson was a hard-swinging, aggressive player with a big, fat tone. That isn't to say that he wasn't influenced by saxmen who lived in other parts of the U.S. -- Wilkerson also inspired comparisons to tenor men who ranged from Chicagoan Gene Ammons to Los Angeles resident Wardell Gray. But it is safe to say that Wilkerson was very much a Texan at heart and that the Lone Star influence is hard to miss on this album (which boasts an all-star lineup that includes Nat Adderley on cornet, Barry Harris on piano, Leroy Vinnegar or Sam Jones on bass, and Billy Higgins on drums). Reissued on CD in 2001, The Texas Twister is recommended to anyone who admires the Lone Star school of soulful, hard-blowing tenor.

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