Here's another album to file under "p" for "pleasant surprises." Bob Rockwell, an American saxophonist who traveled to Denmark as a young man and has lived there ever since (which may explain the omission of his name in both the New Grove Dictionary
and Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz
), is a persuasive modernist on tenor or soprano who surveys the music of composer Alec Wilder on this splendidly recorded and invariably charming studio session.
Besides the leader, the Rockwell 5 is comprised of trumpeter Mårten Lundgren, pianist Kasper Villaume, bassist Marc Davis and drummer Karsten Bagge, who work seamlessly together like parts in a well-oiled machine. Lundgren, we're told, is known more as a section player than soloist. Based on the testimony presented here, he should solo more often, as he unveils a remarkable knack for persuasive improvisation. As for Rockwell, he reminds me, sonically and stylistically, of my favorite young American tenor, Eric Alexander, which is high praise indeed, as I believe that Alexander stands head and shoulders above his peers. Even so, Rockwell's no clone; he has a number of creative ideas to impart, which he does candidly and without a trace of self-indulgence, either on tenor or soprano (which Rockwell plays on "If Love Is Like a Lark," "Moon and Sand" and "Lovers and Losers"). Villaume is yet another able soloist, as he proves on several occasions.
The songs that Rockwell has chosen are rather unexpected, as they are not among Wilder's better-known worksthe only two whose names I recognized are "Moon and Sand" and "Lady Sings the Blues." What this says, above all else, is that there is far more to Alec Wilder than "I'll Be Around," "While We're Young" or "It's So Peaceful in the Country." Even though obscure, each of these melodies is thoroughly enchanting, which serves to heighten one's sense of discovery.
My reaction to the album as a whole is best summed up in the title of the opening track, "I Like It Here." My guess is that you would too. I don't often dwell on playing times, but when an album clocks in at 78: 10, as this one does, it's at least worth mentioning. What's more important from the listener's point of view is that each of those minutes is neatly planned and extremely rewarding.