Friday, August 24, 2012

Brandon Wright: Journeyman

Posi-Tone Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Journeyman

So, who is Brandon Wright? This 30-year-old tenor sax artist is relatively unknown outside of the music world, but he has been a key element in some of the most famous groups in jazz, including bands led by Chuck Mangione and Charles Mingus. And what is a journeyman? In Wright’s own words, “It’s someone who has learned a craft, finished his apprenticeship, and is now out there refining his trade so that one day he, too, can become a jazz master.”

This release, the second under Wright’s leadership, indicates that he’s well on his way to achieving this goal. 

Wright was a senior in high school when he first heard the Mingus Big Band; that prompted the young musician to change his plans about attaining a master’s degree. Instead, he began his music career immediately. Seven years later, he crossed paths with saxophonist Abraham Burton, who asked him to sit in during an upcoming Mingus band gig. Wright met Sue Mingus — the jazz legend’s widow, who managed several of his follow-up groups — and, a few months later, she asked him to join the band. 

The quartet featured here includes pianist David Kikoski, bassist Boris Kozlov and drummer Donald Edwards, all of whom were colleagues in the Mingus band that included Wright. All Mingus groups swung like crazy, and these guys carry on that tradition. 

During the big band years, having an outstanding tenor sax artist in the reed section was an absolute must. Think about them: Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Flip Phillips, Zoot Sims, Stan Getz, Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane are just a few. As those large units faded away, these artists fronted smaller combos and, for years, were at the forefront of the jazz clubs. 

Wright’s quartet takes me back to that era, albeit with a caveat: This album doesn’t include any of the jazz standards that were the backbone of that period. 

The vast majority of these tracks were composed by more modern artists, the sole exception being Hoagy Carmichael’s “The Nearness of You.” And yet, you’ll notice that several of these tunes sound familiar: “Shapeshifter” is based on the chord structure of Cole Porter’s “What Is This Thing Called Love,” while “She’ll Make Me Happy” will be recognized from the movie The Muppets Take Manhattan. Wright wrote six of the 10 tracks, basing them on events in his life, or individuals he has known.

As Jazz Times put it, “Wright is definitely one to watch out for.” This release corroborates that assessment.

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