Monday, February 4, 2019

Album Review: Drew Williams' Wing Walker Orchestra- Hazel

The New York based Drew Williams recently informed Plastic Sax that “I didn’t really start playing jazz music seriously until college so I didn’t play that much in KC while living there, except for the odd Blue Room jam session.”  Williams made up for lost time.  Created with his Wing Walker Orchestra, Williams’ new album Hazel announces the irrefutably significant arrival of an auspicious talent.

Produced by trombonist Alan Ferber, Hazel compares favorably to the output of Snarky Puppy and Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society at the vanguard of improvisational large ensembles.  As with those groups, Wing Walker Orchestra is susceptible to accusations of intellectual fussiness.  Yet Hazel isn’t merely the sort of clinical exercise associated with the academic products of music schools.  (Williams honed his craft at Truman State  University and New York University.)

A riotous arrangement of Tune-Yards' "Look Around" reflects the inclusive intent of Hazel.  “High” sounds as if Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood is sitting in with the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra at the Village Vanguard.  A portion of “Lying (or the Will)” reflects the influence of the late Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson.  The most accessible moments are balanced by wooly solos that will resonate with aficionados of the Vijay Iyer Sextet.  (Here's the album trailer.)

Williams grew up in Lee’s Summit, Missouri, the town that produced the jazz giant Pat Metheny.  While Hazel isn’t likely to catapult Williams to Metheny’s level of acclaim, it’s a consequential step in that direction.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

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