“A Song of Hope”
Soundcloud “Say Her Name”
Photo: Eric Wyatt 2021
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Watch: Eric Wyatt with Eric Wheeler The Making of A Song Of Hope EDub N EDub; Watch “Eric Wyatt – The Making Of A Song Of Hope – Recorded At Van Gelder Studio” on YouTube
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The Joy of Jazz
Grammy-winning jazz artist Samara Joy does a “star turn” on
Eric Wyatt’s A Song of Hope
Eric Wyatt’s 2021 record A Song for Hope on the Whaling City Sound label is an adventurous, colorful, unpredictable, and wide-ranging session, a tour de force of immense creativity and incredible vision. It’s also something of a departure from his last effort, The Golden Rule: For Sonny, also on WCS, which featured the saxophonist in a more straight-ahead jazz setting.
A Song for Hope is also, as it turns out, a star turn for one of Wyatt’s guest performers, none other than Samara Joy, the young jazz vocalist that, quite unexpectedly, happened to win not one but two Grammy Awards last week, one for Best New Artist, and another for Best Jazz Vocal for Linger Awhile. Samara Joy now records for Verve.
Wyatt invited Samara Joy to sing two songs on A Song for Hope, and both are marvelous, in a way, a foreshadowing of the singer’s incredible talent. The first track, “Say Her Name,” is a luminous tribute to Breonna Taylor. “I was looking for her to convey the pain of that event,” says Wyatt, and she did. “When I listen back to it, I remember the hope we all felt in making these songs, and Samara Joy was an excellent part of that.”
Samara Joy is also featured on Wyatt’s soulful take on Sting’s “Fragile.” The singer delivers an ethereal, magical performance, accompanied by Wyatt on soprano sax. Listening to these tracks, it’s no wonder that Samara Joy got the attention she did, both from Wyatt, who invited her to sing with him, and more recently, by the Academy, who awarded her such a distinguished prize.
That said, no one was more surprised by the win than the vocalist herself. “I can’t even believe—I’ve been watching y’all on TV for so long!” she said, in an attempt at an acceptance speech. “All of you inspire me because of who you are. You express exactly who you are authentically. So, to be here by just being myself, I’m just so thankful.”
As it turns out, Wyatt’s recording was a big step in Samara Joy’s career journey so far. In fact, she parlayed several important steps into a recording contract with Verve.
Wyatt sensed he wanted an impressive singer to guest on his recording and he knew that Samara Joy had won the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition back in 2019 at the age of 21. She had been referred to the session by one of his musicians, bass player Mike Boone, a relative of Samara Joy.
Wyatt has always had an eye for talent. A Song of Hope features drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts, bassist Eric Wheeler, and pianist Donald Vega along with an all-star horn section and a few additional guests.
“Samara became a blessing in disguise,” says Wyatt. He had originally thought he’d produce an instrumental version of “Fragile.” “When I heard her sing, I knew she could convey the feeling of both of those songs. And she did.”
On A Song of Hope, his second album for Whaling City Sound, saxophonist Eric Wyatt offers more than hope; he offers assurance that contemporary jazz is alive and well in and around his home base of Brooklyn, NY. Wyatt, the godson of another rather well-known saxophonist, Sonny Rollins, performs in groups of various sizes, from quartet to octet, with vocals by Samara Joy on two numbers, “Fragile” and Wyatt’s “Say Her Name.” The almost-constants are pianist Donald Vega, bassist Eric Wheeler and drummer Jeff Watts, who are on board for eight numbers but step aside for a pair of Wyatt-Watts duets and are replaced by bassist Mike Boone and his talented fourteen-year-old son, drummer Mekhi Boone, on John Coltrane‘s “Central Park West” and McCoy Tyner‘s “Contemplation.”
Watch Jeff “Tain” Watts and Delbert Felix meet after over 25 years!
Whaling City Sound, whalingcitysound.com Chris Lowery (tr.), Theo Croker (tr., flic.), Clifton Anderson (trne), Eric Wyatt (sop., ten., voc), Donald Vega (p.), Eric Wheeler, Mike Boone (cb.), Jeff Tain Watts, Mekhi Boone (batt., voc.), Kahlil Qwame Bell (perc.), Samara Joy (voc.).
New York, ottobre 2020.
This record is the bomb. We announced it last October on the occasion of an article who took stock of the situation of jazz musicians in New York during the full-blown period of the pandemic. In reality, its publication was scheduled for last May / June, while it came out in September. But it was worth the wait. Here we discover – and with pleasure – a greater versatility of the Brooklyn tenorist, with an attention to that spirituality which is now overwhelmingly current and present in certain tributes that he has decided to dedicate to some of the prominent personalities of modern music (Coltrane’s “Central Park West,” McCoy Tyner’s “Contemplation,” Sting’s “Fragile). But there is not only this: the Latin-tinged “Sunset Park Bonita”, the funkish gait of “Fur Live” (a composition by the young and emerging trumpeter Chris Lowery), the bop of “Blues For RH” (dedicated to Roy Hargrove), the metropolitan emotionality of the title-track, ultimately the whole album is pervaded by a contagious energy that accounts for an in-depth and visceral knowledge of the jazz language. With a phrasing poised between Rollins and Coltrane, Eric Wyatt has always loved to surround himself with solid (Jeff Watts, Clifton Anderson, Donal Vega) and new ones (Theo Croker, Chris Lowery, 15-year-old Mekhi Boone on drums) brilliant personalities of American jazz. Once again he hit the mark.
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This is the second time I review a CD album by Eric Wyatt on Musica Jazz, and we are even more impressed by the robust and brilliant phrasing of the saxophonist who pays tribute to the great tenorists of the past, in this countless beautiful concentrate of music (which since the title itself wants to remind us of the great Sonny Rollins), making use of a few top and on the rise names of contemporary jazz.
Among them we mention Giveton Gelin, now more than a promise, and the already established pianist Fortner, to confirm the healthy state of American Jazz. It seems to us that the strength of Mr Wyatt, besides his inventively, technique, sense of swing, and lyricism, is beyond any doubt his natural ability to put together bands of absolute level, thanks to his vision and instinct, which allow him to attract music personalities who are brilliant and of great interest.
The personnel in this album are all stellar both on an instrumental and expressive level, bot mostly they are able to put aside their own individualities to the benefit of music. That same music that comes out in all its swinging grandiloquence in each of the twelve tracks of this work.
Then, how not to let ourselves swing along with the rhythm, how not to feel the emotions from the solos and the voicings of Anthony Wonsey? How not to appreciate the ‘cavata’ of Tyler Mitchell? The round and robust sound of Eric Wheeler? How not to be impressed by Willie Jones III drumming, or Charles Gold’s and Chris Beck’s?
We won’t address here Mr Wyatt’s ability to communicate and his languid delicacy in ballads, of which we have spoken in other occasions (he works on percussions in all tracks). Just listen to his cover of Burt Bacharach’s What The World Needs Now to find out.
Eric Wyatt is among those voices who demonstrate that jazz still has a lot to express. Eric Wyatt is a name AND a guarantee.
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Through his five, now six recordings as a bandleader, tenor talent Eric Wyatt has basically been performing unspoken tributes to Sonny Rollins. This time, he comes right out and says it. Not that he’s mindlessly mimicking the master. Wyatt, who happens to call Rollins his actual godfather, has a way of injecting his passion for bebop and affection for geniuses like Rollins, Charlie Parker, and Pharaoh Sanders, into virtually every note he plays. Wyatt’s latest, The Golden Rule: for Sonny, is his inimitable way of paying tribute to those strong boppers of the past, joined by talents that have been contributing valiantly to the vibrancy of today’s jazz scene—guitarist Russell Malone, pianist Benito Gonzalez, trombonist Clifton Anderson, tenor JD Allen, and emerging youth like Giveton Gelin on trombone and pianist Sullivan Fortner. Together, the posse exudes both class and bold promise as well as dashes of melodic invention. Wyatt says that he will never forget the impact Rollins—who often played with Wyatt’s father—had on him growing up. Here, on The Golden Rule: for Sonny, he proves he is a man of his word.
Brooklyn-born and bred Eric Wyatt owns a solid berth along the saxophone continuum originally laid out by guys like Parker, Coltrane and Rollins. Throughout his career, his playing has been edgy and inventive, heartfelt and poignant. In fact, his father was good friends with Rollins and after Wyatt’s dad passed away, Sonny Rollins became involved in Eric’s music. “After my dad passed in 1989, Sonny became very present in my music and offered his help. I was given the opportunity to record my first CD, Godson, on the Japanese label King Records. Sonny suggested the title Godson because it explained his and my dad’s Hope. The Godson CD featured Al Foster, Rufus Reid and Mark Soskin, all members of Sonny’s bands.
Look to the Sky, Wyatt’s debut for Whaling City Sound and his sixth recording overall, is magnificently realized, both instrumentally and emotionally. There are musical nods to his father (“Jolley Charlie”) and mother (“Psalm for Phennie”), to Coltrane (“My Favorite Things”) and a few other intimate touch points, some original, a few written by his accompanist, Benito Gonzalez. Indeed, Wyatt is joined here by excellent progressive musicians, including the resounding pianist Gonzalez, drummers Shinnosuke Takahashi and Kyle Poole, Eric Wheeler on bass and Keyon Harrold on trumpet. Together, their music is filled with hope and dedication, reciprocity and passion. With every recording, Wyatt flourishes, in terms of artistry and intensity, power and finesse. Look to the Sky is the man’s—and his band’s— finest and fullest record yet.