Brandon Wright – Journeyman (2012)

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Journeyman is sax specialist Brandon Wright’s second time out as a leader and for this go around he brought some of his cohorts in the Mingus Big Band in the studio with him: David Kikoski on piano, Boris Kozlov on bass and Donald Edwards on drums. What these guys might lack in the big name draw of Wright’s first album Boiling Point (2010) they make up for in chemistry and tightness.

As before, though, Wright’s sax is the star attraction. An outsized tone that is classic tenor sax, approximating Coltrane via Kenny Garrett but with a little less vibrato. When the mood strikes him, he’s quite capable of Joe Henderson type trills and blasts. As part of the generation who grew up listening to Pearl Jam and Oasis, Wright builds a bridge for that listening audience to mainstream jazz with some crafty re-constructions. Eddie Vedder’s “Better Man” (YouTube below) is genteel and a noir sophistication in Wright’s hands, and he puts his heart into his expressions. He attaches a “Love Supreme” styled intro to Oasis’ “Wonderwall” and follows the vocal part on his horn close enough for anyone attached to the song to identify with it, even as there’s little else about this version that alludes to Oasis’ pop presentation.

Aside from these, an uptempo song from a Muppets movie, “She’ll Make Me Happy” and a straightforward interpretation of “The Nearness of You,” it’s all Wright’s songs, and here is where he’s shown the most noticeable growth. Already strong in that department, Wright pours a lot of soul into these tunes, which all have sharply defined moods. From the finger-snapping swing of “Shapeshifter” and “Big Bully” to the organic funk of “Walk of Shame” and the melancholy “Illusions Of Light” (with a splendid solo saxophone intro), Wright spins melodies that stick with you. The R&B element that often lurks in his soundprint comes to the fore on the somber “Search For Truth,” where Kikoski for this one time plays electric piano to get the complexion for the tune just right.

The title of this album reflects Wright’s realization that to get to the upper echelon of jazz musicians is “to work one day at a time.” It’s clear from his second album, he’s been putting in the work to get there. Journeyman is solid, straight-at-ya jazz from beginning to end, and the mark of a rising star.

Journeyman goes on sale May 15 by Posi-Tone Records. Visit Brandon Wright’s website for more info.

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S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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