Thursday, November 18, 2021

Eric Wyatt | "A Song Of Hope"

As the follow-up to his 2019 release The Golden Rule: For Sonny, Eric Wyatt’s A Song of Hope is vastly different in both tone and intent. Where the former was a tour de force, a tribute to Sonny Rollins and a straight-ahead blast of bop, Wyatt’s new record is more adventurous, colorful, unpredictable, and wide-ranging. Both are beautiful, for some of the same—but also different—reasons. 

Wyatt says that his heightened performance on A Song of Hope is a response to being in Covid lockdown. “I think the energy you hear on this recording came from the fact that I hadn’t played out in so long, so I was really pushing the music. I didn’t play any gigs at all from February until July, when Spike Wilner gave me a gig at Smalls, one of those short one-hour sets. And then Mike Boone called me to play at a new club in Philly just a week before my record date. I did that gig on a Friday, and the next Thursday I was at Van Gelder Studios.”

A Song of Hope resonates like a team effort and serves as a healing balm for stressful times.  On songs like “Fur Live” and McCoy Tyner’s “Contemplation,” Wyatt, along with drum legend Jeff “Tain” Watts, together lay it all on the table. Bassist Eric Wheeler’s generous tones and agile lines keep things grounded, while Donald Vega’s keys bring freshness in his comping and excitement in his solos. 

As always, Watts underscores everything with tremendous dexterity. His presence elevates Wyatt, so much so that the duo’s playing suggests shades of a Coltrane/Elvin Jones tandem. Trumpeters Theo Croker and Chris Lowery, trombonist Clifton Anderson, and percussionist Kahlil Kwame Bell all contribute healthy doses of talent and taste. Elsewhere, as on the Breonna Taylor requiem “Say Her Name,” the lights dim, and the contrast is luminous. On Wyatt’s soulful take on Sting’s “Fragile,” with Wyatt on soprano sax, he invites singer Samara Joy, the 21-year-old winner of the 2019 Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition, to chime in, and she does so with drama and elegance. 

Recorded in a single session at Van Gelder’s historic Englewood Cliffs studio, A Song of Hope brings all the brio you’d expect from Wyatt and more. His intent to shine beaming rays of optimism across what was then a barren musical landscape is noble, fulfilling. In accomplishing that intention, the man and his saxophone embrace new ideas, expand the band’s musical boundaries, and create a vast and gratifying journey for the listener to enjoy. “When I listen back to this work, I’m amazed that we got it done,” he says. “But I wanted to give a message that we need to be hopeful, and music does have that quality in it. You know, you play a song, maybe you get a little smile from it. And if it does that for somebody, then I feel like I made a statement.”

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