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Leo Wright, sax – Blues Shout – Atlantic SD 1358 (1960)/ Pure Pleasure – vinyl

Leo Wright, sax – Blues Shout – Atlantic SD 1358 (1960)/ Pure Pleasure PPAN SD1358 (2017) stereo vinyl, 40:33 *****:

Leo Wright’s auspicious debut is captured with a compelling vinyl re-mastering.

(Leo Wright – alto saxophone, flute, arrangements; Harry Lookofsky – violin; Junior Nance – piano; Art Davis – doublebass; Charlie Persip – drums; Richard Williams – trumpet; Gigi Gryce – arrangements)

Many jazz greats emerged from their days with Dizzy Gillespie. Charlie Parker, John Lewis, Milt Jackson, Percy Heath, Kenny Clarke, James Moody, Quincy Jones  and Les Spann all participated in various combos with Gillespie. In 1959 a young Texan named Leo Wright took over for Spain. In the Army, Wright had developed an assortment of musical skills, playing jazz, big band and was part of the symphony. He became proficient on alto saxophone, clarinet and flute. While attending San Francisco State, he got to sit in with Dizzy. After several recordings as a sideman, he was signed to Atlantic Records as a frontman. Here, Wright would develop as an arranger, composer and instrumentalist.

Wright’s brilliant Atlantic debut, Blues Shout has been re-mastered to 180-gram vinyl by Pure Pleasure Records. And this analog upgrade is worth it. Both sides of the album utilize a slight lineup adjustment that distinguishes it from the other. Side 1 opens with a Wright original, “Sigi”. A unison lead of flute (Wright) and violin (Harry Lookofsky) brings an exotic worldly glow as the song gets underway. The initial flute solo is crisp and jaunty. The stellar rhythm section (Junior Nance/piano; Art Davis/double bass; Charlie Persip/drums) is completely locked in. Lookofsky contributes a breezy violin solo that is fresh. When he and Wright reunite at the end, their chemistry is palpable. “Angel Eyes” (one of five arrangements by fellow alto saxophonist/ flutist Gigi Gryce) changes things with a slow-walking blues vamp (introduced by Davis). Nance’s first solo displays intricate phrasing and soulful elegance. Wright follows with a soaring run that elevates the jamming. Davis interacts with flute and violin effortlessly.

Changing the dynamic, “Autumn Leaves” is arranged for quartet (no violin). The melancholic classicism is captured in the intro as Wright reaches emotional depth. There is a potent transition to swing mode as the rhythm section joins in. Davis’ hard-charging double bass drives the cadence. Wright and Nance reconnect on a slower interlude at the end. Wright brings a rare artistry to his flute solos. “Autumn Leaves” has been covered in a wide array of styles. With flair, Wright and Davis explore the meditative romanticism as they open in tandem. A gentle swing break ensues, before Lookofsky’s solo. Davis gets an extended solo (32 bars according to the liner notes) with just a touch of accompaniment by Persip. Coming full circle, Wright and Davis team up after Nance’s piano riffs.

Trumpeter Richard Williams joins the ensemble on Side Two, changing the direction of the band. The title track kicks off with a cool, finger-snapping doublebass. Nance executes some trademark blues chops leading into Williams’ succinct, minimal vibrato trumpet. Wright switches to alto saxophone in a commanding, muscular representation. It is blues & soul jazz. The group combines for big band-reminiscent punctuations with a sly Count Basie ending. Paying homage to Dizzy Gillespie, “Night In Tunisia” is a complex wild ride. Touches like counterpoint between alto and muted trumpet are innovative and non-derivative. But the explosiveness of the bop masterpiece is front and center as the band unites. All the players get their moment to shine individually. The arrangement manages to showcase originality and embrace Gillespie. “The Wind” is another unexpected piece. It has a cinematic (film noir), haunting ambiance, with a wistful saxophone and elegant piano. The piece was first recorded in 1953 by Chet Baker as part of the West Coast Jazz movement. The finale (Two Moods”) is intriguing and creative. A moody ballad opens and closes the jam with an emphatic swing break in the middle. Williams unleashes a potent bop-influenced solo, and Persip offers an expanded solo.

The sonic aesthetics captured in the vinyl re-mastering are stellar. The gossamer tonality of the flute and supple richness of the alto saxophone (without any shrillness) are exemplary (Of course legendary engineers Tom Down and Phil Iehle provided excellent source material). The stereo separation (especially for 1960) is top-notch. None of the instruments get lost in mixing. The album notes by Leonard Feather are incisive and entertaining. Equipment aficionados will be pleased with the high fidelity recording details.

TrackList:
Side A: Sigi; Angel Eyes; Autumn Leaves; Indian Summer
Side B: Blues Shout; Night In Tunisia; The Wind; Two Moods

—Robbie Gerson

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