Alan Wilkinson, Practice

Charles Farrell

By Charles Farrell

on 11.28.11 in Reviews

Practice is Alan Wilkinson’s State of the Union saxophone précis. It takes the listener through seven pieces played on solo alto or baritone. Five of these are essentially studies; their goal is to test the horns’ harmonic capabilities, range of sonorities and extremes in volume. Wilkinson exhibits a solid command of both instruments without succumbing to gratuitous display. Although the music is challenging, it will find support among intrepid listeners whose commitment isn’t rooted solely in the avant-garde.

Challenging, but not solely rooted in the avant-garde

In addition to the Wilkinson originals, the standard “You Don’t Know What Love Is” and Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman” are explored. Ironically, the “tune” tune is among the most radical exercises in the program. Although Wilkinson meticulously holds to the 32-bar form, he takes liberties with virtually every other aspect of the song. He barely plays any single notes, opting for double and triple harmonics screams, wordless singing pitched a third below the baritone sax, and huge sonic blasts for the instrument’s lowest register.

“Lonely Woman” gets a more circumspect treatment. Wilkinson, on alto, uses silence tellingly, alternating between declamatory statements and space. His tone is harsher than Ornette’s but it’s evident that he has paid close attention to Coleman’s playing as well as his composing. There are phrases in the lower register which bear a striking resemblance to Coleman’s. There are also similarities to Anthony Braxton’s work, most noticeably on “Line,” where the alto alternates between looping phrases and thrilled harmonic clusters. “Dalston no. 2″ is “Practice’s” most ambitious selection, a 20 plus minute essay in acoustic violence that nearly shreds the baritone saxophone playing it. Alan Wilkinson may not exactly make it easy for you to get through “Practice,” but he presents you with a substantial recital that rewards focused listening.