Will Vinson, 441
by Nolan DeBuke
Will Vinson is a New York City-based alto saxophonist and composer. Born in London, he moved to New York City in 1999, and has remained there ever since. Since his arrival, he has appeared and recorded with Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Ari Hoenig, Marcus Gilmore, Chris Potter, Kurt Elling, Lage Lund, Aaron Parks, and many others. In 2016 Vinson’s debut recording for 5Passion, Perfectly Out of Place, featuring an all-star group: Mike Moreno on guitar, Gonzalo Rubalcaba on piano, Matt Penman on bass and Jeff Ballard on drums was met with ecstatic approval. He has seven records as a leader and has appeared on many as a sideman too. Now, Vinson is making his Whirlwind label debut with an album titled, 441. The album features five contemporary piano masters. Sullivan Fortner, Tigran Hamasyan, Gerald Clayton, Fred Hersch, and long-time associate Gonzalo Rubalcaba. Each pianist is matched with their respective bass and drum team of Matt Brewer and Obed Calvaire, Matt Penman and Billy Hart, Matt Brewer and Clarence Penn, Rick Rosato, and Jochen Rueckert, and Larry Grenadier and Eric Harland. Vinson fronts the five dream trios as a bystander and participant at the same time. Of the eleven tunes, six are Vinson originals.
“Banal Street” is an original Vinson composition. The selection is a duet between Tigran Hamasyan and Vinson. The two fill the space with exciting colors and propel the feel with a relaxed rhythmic structure that maintains a steady pulse. Vinson’s interaction with Hamasyan is spirited and full of space and activity. The melody and harmonic setting fit the duet’s language, and the relaxed tempo allows for ample investigation. Hamasyan’s comping is sensitive, and his solo is well-paced and melodic.
“That Happened” is another standout Vinson composition that features Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Larry Grenadier and Eric Harland. Set to a medium up-tempo pulse, the melody slides between rapid-fire eights and relaxed phrases. Harland’s drumming is interactive, as Rubalcaba’s piano colors are inspiring. Vinson turns in some of his best playing on this track. Grenadier’s solo is melodic as he spins outlines. Vinson’s use of motifs on this solo if very enjoyable.
441 is an interesting album; the concept is excellent. However, the flow seemed a little unstable at times. The playing is terrific throughout the project, but as a whole, there could have been a more congealing factor. The three duets were lovely, but the quartets had much more energy, making the duets sound a little anemic in comparison. Each pianist is unique, and Vinson interacts with them beautifully. There is certainly something here for every jazz fan.