Ken Wiley Jazz Horn Redux
French horn is not a common solo instrument in jazz, often found in ensembles to add musical color such as in Gil Evans orchestrations or Hall Overton’s Big Band arrangements of Thelonious Monk for Monk’s legendary Town Hall Concert. Wiley is among those who have provided more prominence to the instrument and on this disc he has put together eleven interpretations of some famous jazz compositions with a group that includes Wally Minko on piano; Trey Henry on bass; and Kendall Kay on drums with appearances from Luis Conte on percussion; Dan Higgins on flutes and saxophones; Gary Grant on trumpet or flugelhorn; and Bob Sheppard on saxophones.
The album opens with a rendition of Freddie Hubbard’s “Little Sunflower,” with Dan Higgins’ flute and alto sax adding to the melodious warmth of Wiley’s imaginative french horn playing which exhibits considerable warmth and imagination (think of the wonderful playing of trombonist Lawrence Brown with Duke Ellington).
On a superficial note, there is a CTI feel obvious here, but on many of the performances here with a polish, but not lacking substance, which is a credit to the arrangements and the players. “Bags Groove” is a marvelous interpretation of The Milt Jackson classic with a nice blues solo from Wiley followed by crisp solos from pianist Minko and some brash flugelhorn from Grant with the group interpolating “Killer Joe” at the end.
There are two numbers from “Kind of Blue,” “All Blues” and “Freddie Freeloader.” Grant, on trumpet, helps state the theme on the opening of the former number before Wiley’s mellow, furry tone improvisation captures the feel of Miles Davis’ playing here while Grant’s open trumpet has more overt fire, set against the solid rhythm section. On ”Freddie the Freeloader,“ Grant uses a Harmon mute, while Minko again adeptly solos. There is a relaxed rendition of ”Scrapple From The Apple,” with Chuck Findley’s trumpet contrasting with Wiley’s horn along with Bob Sheppard’s hard bop tenor sax.
Other performances include a couple of blues, Sonny Rollins’ “Sonnymoon For Two,” and Coltrane’s “Equinox.” There is a marvelous bossa nova treatment of Jobim’s “Corcavado,” with lovely arranging of the unison heads from Higgins on flute and Wiley on french horn, and there is another lovely Brazilian jazz performance of Clare Fischer’s Morning,“ with Higgins on soprano sax in addition to flute. A bouncy rendition of Sonny Rollins’ ”Oleo,” has some sizzling muted trumpet from Grant in addition to the leader’s horn.
Eddie Harris’ “Freedom Jazz Dance” is the closing performance here with Minko on electric piano, while Chuck Findley blasts away followed by Sheppard’s clarinet sounding soprano solo before Wiley solos over the funky rhythm section followed by a bouncy Minko solo. It draws a curtain on a marvelously programmed recording that has clean, crisp arrangements and presents several different settings for the performances including several with an imaginative front-line of trumpet and french horn.
There is wonderful playing from all, but Wiley as leader stands out on this delightful, superb recording.