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*** 1/2 GERALD WILSON ORCHESTRA "Theme for Monterey" MAMA

April 12, 1998|Bill Kohlhaase

Commissioned for the Monterey Jazz Festival's 40th anniversary last September, Gerald Wilson's five-part suite shows that its composer (whose 80th birthday is later this year) has only gotten better at his craft. Wilson's strong suit is melody, and a single motif that varies in rhythm and orchestration from tune to tune ties together the five parts. The carefree swing line at the center of "Lyon's Roar" played by Wilson's guitarist-son Anthony Wilson becomes the graceful, flute-led waltz of "The Lone Cypress" then the brassy, cha-cha "Spanish Bay."

The harmonies, sometimes four, five and more tones deep, give the music weight, while Wilson provides plenty of orchestral texture behind his improvisers. Any number of fine solos from guitarist Wilson, trumpeters Oscar Brashear and Carl Saunders, trombonists George Bohanon and Isaac Smith, pianist Brian O'Rourke and saxophonists Scott Mayo, Louis Taylor, Carl Randall and Randall Willis take full advantage of Wilson's melodic concept.

This studio recording also includes Wilson's arrangements of Gershwin's "Summertime," with its weave of various "Porgy and Bess" themes, and the be-bop classic "Anthropology." "Monterey" captures the swinging spirit of its namesake festival as well as the rich beauty of its setting.

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor) to four stars (excellent).

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