Tenor saxophonist Eric Wyatt plays a hard-hitting, no-nonsense style of postbop jazz that he developed not in hushed Manhattan listening rooms but in the wee hours at dives deep in his native Brooklyn. For Wyatt, jazz is entertainment, but also part of a tradition that for him has a cutoff point about 1959. If a smoky, purist oldschool sound is your thing, he’s playing a rare daytime show at noon on August 2 with a group TBA at Columbus Park, Cadman Plaza East and Johnson St. in downtown Brooklyn, a couple of blocks down Court St. from Borough Hall.
This blog’s favorite Wyatt album, Borough of Kings, came out in 2014. It’s probably the wildest record that the Posi-Tone label ever put out and it may not have sold well because they never put out another one. The band have a feral, careening time through a mix of postbop originals that frequently fade out instead of ending cold. There are pros and cons with that kind of haphazard approach, but it goes to show how hard it probably was to rein in Wyatt’s propensity for unhinged energy in a studio setting.
There’s more recent Wyatt out there, one prime example being an hourlong video from the jam session at Smalls, which he frequently leads. This one’s from New Years Day, 2022 (actually January 2 considering that the jam there invariably starts sometime after midnight). There doesn’t seem to be much of a crowd in the house, and Wyatt starts out in a slightly more subdued mood. Here he’s leading a quartet with an extrovert drummer (who isn’t credited in the shownotes or at the Smalls event page), along with Benito Gonzalez on piano and Jason Maximo Clotter on bass.
The tumbling drums match Gonzalez’s insistent lefthand crunch as Wyatt chooses his spots with a modal smolder in the first number, a Mongo Santamaria tune. As the set goes on, Wyatt seldom veers far from that intensity. Gonzalez relishes his chance to do his own hard-hitting chromatic thing up the scale over the crash and burn behind him.
The band hit a loosely tethered swing in Sonny Rollins’ Silver City, Wyatt gruff and acerbic but also wickedly precise with his arpeggios, balancing that with little more than a hint of the savagery he can conjure. Gonzalez relentlessly evades anything approximating major or minor; Clotter evokes burbling horn voicings with his cheery solo. Gonzalez finally takes it to Cuba at the end.
Wyatt keeps his modal edge through a McCoy Tyner tune that Gonzalez brought to the session, the pianist exploring it with a slightly more light-fingered attack over the rhythm section’s staggered swing. By now, the conversations are starting, Gonzalez shadowing Wyatt as the drummer fuels the blaze.
Oh yeah, if you’re wondering where Wyatt gets his sound, his godfather is Sonny Rollins.