Live in New York: The Vanguard Sessions
This latest CD by saxophonist Steve Wilson — his first as leader in a dozen years — has “Bring it on!” emblazoned into every cut. Recorded in May 2014, these live selections from the Village Vanguard present Wilson at his most voracious, firing off compelling solos that enliven and, in the best ways, exhaust the listener. This hour of music captures the intensity of live performance and some of Wilson’s finest playing to date.
The quartet begins with a semi-deconstructed rendition of Thelonious Monk’s “Well, You Needn’t,” with Wilson on alto (bright, authoritative, searing) spurred on by drummer Bill Stewart who, as he does throughout the album, keeps extraordinarily busy with fills and flourishes without ever interfering. Pianist Orrin Evans composed the next tune, “Spot It You Got It,” with Wilson switching to soprano and bassist Ugonna Okegwo providing a thoughtful solo. The center of the album presents three compositions by Wilson, starting with a ballad (“Chrysalis”) and a medium groove (“Perry Street”) before turning to “Spheresophically,” Wilson’s second nod to Monk, with a head that sounds a bit like the bridge to “Epistrophy.” Evans seems particularly inspired here, tossing in Monk-ish phrases and even strolling to let Wilson light up the stand in a trio setting.
The following waltz (“If I Were a Wind of Spring”) provides a necessary break from the intensity — although, here, too, Wilson brings up the heat like well-salted water for pasta. And then they charge into the finale: “Patterns,” a burner by Joe Chambers that features incendiary solos by Wilson and Evans, as well as a marvelous, out-of-tempo drum solo by Stewart. It’s a rousing close to an adventurous, exhilarating performance. — Sascha Feinstein