Jazz Reviews : A Triumphant Return for Gerald Wilson

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In his first concert appearance after an illness that kept him sidelined for more than seven months, Gerald Wilson showed an audience during the Playboy Jazz Cruise that he remains one of the greats of jazz.

Though he and his ensemble didn’t even have a chance to rehearse for the appearance on the “California Hornblower” during a three-hour spin Sunday around Los Angeles Harbor, the composer-arranger seemed in splendid shape as he and the musicians relived the past with such timeless works as “Blues for Yna Yna.”

Wilson’s sound is unmistakably his own, particularly when he dips his pen into Mexican-flavored musical inkwells. “Carlos,” one of his bullfighting specials, is a vehicle for the brilliant trumpet of Oscar Brashear, a craftsman whose first five notes immediately proclaimed his tonal mastery.


Wilson’s ensemble, with its six saxophones, full brass team and admirable rhythm section, delivered the charts with an impeccable finesse that belied the long layoff. Everyone in the band is a soloist, but a few stood out: Louis Taylor (tenor sax), Thurman Green (trombone), Brian O’Rourke (piano), Danny House (alto sax) and a phenomenal high-note trumpet specialist, Bob Clark.

During the last set, Wilson coaxed Snooky Young onto the stand (both were once members of the Jimmie Lunceford trumpet team) to join him in the vocal on “Margie.” But this was no mere nostalgia trip; music by Wilson, whether written decades ago or last week, just hasn’t heard of the inroads of time.