Wing Walker Orchestra - Hazel

Label: ears&eyes, 2019

Personnel – Drew Williams: bass clarinet; Eric Trudel: tenor sax; Brad Mulholland: alto saxophone, clarinet; John Blevins: trumpet; Danny Gouker: trumpet; Karl Lyden: trombone; Nick Grinder: trombone; Jeff McLaughlin: guitar; Marta Sánchez: piano; Adam Hopkins: acoustic bass; Nathan Ellman-Bell: drums.

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Wing Walker Orchestra is an 11-piece jazz ensemble led by the 30-year-old multi-reedist/composer Drew Williams, who let the saxophone aside to play exclusively bass clarinet on Hazel. The project features well-established musicians and bandleaders in their own right, such as saxophonist Eric Trudel, trumpeter John Blevins, Spanish pianist Marta Sanchez, and bassist Adam Hopkins.

The first seven tracks on the album form a suite inspired by Saga, the space fantasy comic book series penned by Brian K. Vaughan. Propelled by a dried beat and guitar ostinatos, “An Idea” also incorporates horn lines in tandem, precise counterpoint, and spiky unisons in a breezy, danceable exercise with a memorable melodic riff. The hues of “Backbone” feel pretty similar, with crisp lines hovering an uplifting rock-infused groove comparable to Mark Helias/Gerry Hemingway's foundation in their BassDrumBone trio.

Lying” has handclaps and lyrical piano underpinning the solemn chamber fluxes created by the horns. Enlivened by the drummer, this piece effectively merges electronics, circular piano, and shrilling guitar drones for texture.

Elaborated yet emphatic rhythms grant “Heists” a modern vitality, while the charged horn section juxtaposes rhythmic figures in a clear search for punch and groove.

The band sticks to the original 9/4 tempo of Tune-Yards' “Look Around”, belting out an alternative folk-rock-meets-progressive-jazz. The tune hinges on the strong presences of bass clarinet and trombone, and ends with a collective ecstasy in the wake of a cautious saxophone statement.

The record actually gets more exciting in its last segment, and if “We’ve Seen These Walls Crumble” feels a bit dragging, “High” and Michael Attias’ “Marina”, a bonus track, are incredibly stimulating. On the former, you will find the bass clarinet echoing Eastern pronouncements and a rock-tinged guitar spreading energy, while the latter invites you to a fantastic trip, filled with precipitous sounds a-la Steve Lehman on the head and lots of humor during Trudel's saxophone escalations. It’s intricate and stunning, with delicious sharp angles to be examined.

Williams’ WWO channels so much inspiration from many directions, spicing things up with textural hues that always feel very musical. The group’s debut album was produced by trombonist/composer Alan Ferber.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
08 – Look Around ► 10 - High ► 11 - Marina