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Alan Wilkinson - Practice

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Artist: Alan Wilkinson

Album: Practice

Label: Bo'Weavil

Review date: Feb. 8, 2012

This solo album from Alan Wilkinson completes a fine trilogy alongside the Hession/Wilkinson/Fell reunion tour live album and the Simon H Fell solo album. Practice consists of seven solo tracks, two recorded in January 2010 and five in July 2011, the two sessions happening before and after Wilkinson moved his practice space from a carpeted cell in an old hospital into purpose-built rehearsal studios.

The two older (hospital) pieces, both improvisations, are the longest here, together comprising over half the album. While his trio playing with bass and drums tends to be fast, furious and thrilling, when Wilkinson plays alone with time and space to stretch out, he demonstrates an altogether different side to his music. So, the 14-minute “Flush. Dalston No. 2” is taken at a stately pace and slowly unfolds with an irrefutable sense of logic and beauty. Wilkinson seems to savor every phrase, often producing a rich, languid tone as he lingers over notes. Providing contrast, there are occasional glimpses of his trademark uncompromising, hard-edged tone, but more often he sounds as if he is caressing his sax — in fact, there are interludes which feature the sound of Wilkinson prepping the reed by kissing it.

The 20-minute “Dalston No. 1” is just as impressive but in different ways. Wilkinson repeatedly summons up a series of profound low notes from his baritone saxophone before soaring into the horn’s upper reaches. Again, while reeling off melodic phrases, he produces the kind of sounds that demonstrate why he allegedly earned the nickname “Iron Lungs.” Awesome stuff.

The pieces from the later session are distinct from the earlier ones by being shorter but also because three of them are compositions, not improvisations. Where improvising music is concerned, some sceptics still harbour suspicions that its musicians cannot play (so called) “proper” tunes. Anyone who does hold such prejudices would be well advised to hear Wilkinson’s versions of his own “Pixieland” (written jointly with – and here played as tribute to – the late Matthew Coe a.k.a. Xero Slingsby, whose alto saxophone Wilkinson inherited and plays to this day), the standard “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” and, most of all, Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman.”

Unsurprisingly, Wilkinson’s reinterpretation of the standard is miles away from the well-known Sonny Rollins reading on Saxophone Colossus. He replaces Rollins’ mellifluous tones with his own more abrasive, less romantic approach, successfully stamping his identity on the piece — the mark of a good jazz version. Similarly, he makes “Lonely Woman” his own, leaving enough of the original intact to be recognisable but being bold with his explorations and investigations. These two covers are both excellent, but on an album full of first-rate tracks, it would be unfair to single them out as outstanding.

By John Eyles

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