Pacific Jazz Records ST-61 / Blue Note Records B0033487-01
Format: LP

Musical Performance: ****½
Sound Quality: ****½
Overall Enjoyment: ****½

When jazz trumpeter, arranger, and composer Gerald Wilson died in 2014, at the age of 96, he was celebrated as a great and important American musician. He had received many accolades throughout his later years. In 1990, the National Endowment for the Arts named Wilson an NEA Jazz Master, and various other awards came to him in the years that followed. Over his long career, a number of his recordings were nominated for Grammy Awards.

Wilson’s most active recording years as a leader were during the 1960s, with Pacific Jazz Records. He recorded 11 albums under his own name, and handled the arrangements for recordings by other Pacific Jazz artists. Blue Note’s Tone Poet series includes titles originally released by Pacific Jazz, and the latest is Wilson’s second LP as a leader, Moment of Truth, from 1962. As with all the Tone Poet releases, Kevin Gray remastered the recording under producer Joe Harley’s supervision, using the original analog tapes as the source.

Moment of Truth

Moment of Truth is a big-band album, performed by an ensemble of 17, and augmented by other musicians on some tracks. Wilson composed seven of the album’s nine songs. I have a 1981 LP reissue of Moment of Truth, and I also have the album on CD as part of a Mosaic Records set, The Complete Pacific Jazz Recordings of Gerald Wilson (2000).

Malcolm Addey remastered Wilson’s Pacific Jazz recordings for Mosaic, and did his usual fine job. Wilson’s “Viva Tirado” opens Moment of Truth with guitarist Joe Pass playing a solo statement against pianist Jack Wilson’s chords, Jimmy Bond’s bass, Mel Lewis’s drums, and Modesto Duran’s Latin percussion. The CD and 1981 LP sounded remarkably similar, but I felt individual bass lines on the CD were slightly easier to hear, while Pass’s guitar sounded somewhat more natural on the vinyl.

Moment of Truth 1981

The first thing that struck me when I played this Tone Poet reissue was how I could hear the dimensions of the recording studio. I got a much better sense that I was hearing music being played in a large room. I also heard and could follow individual instruments more easily on the new LP. Bond’s bass and Jack Wilson’s piano chords were more clearly stated. Duran’s congas were easier to pick out of the mix, and they were set off better from Lewis’s drums.

“Patterns” is a terrific Gerald Wilson composition and one of my favorite big-band songs from the 1960s. It sounds fresh, even now; while it pushes the sound of large ensemble jazz forward, it’s still swinging fun. On CD, the music sounded a little reserved when I compared it to the 1981 pressing. Pass’s rhythm guitar was well into the background on the CD, but his chord changes were easier to hear on the LP. Jack Wilson’s piano chords rang more brightly on the vinyl, and the horn arrangements were more expansive.

On the Tone Poet pressing, everything in the recording seemed to open up, even in contrast to the earlier LP. Jack Wilson’s piano sounded out more confidently and Bond’s bass was bigger and harder hitting. I found it much easier to discern the instruments in the horn and reed sections—they were timbrally accurate, and the subtle changes in harmony in the arrangement were more audible. I could hear in far greater detail how Jones phrased his solo, and how emotionally committed Harold Land was during his feature on tenor sax.

Miles Davis’s “Milestones” opens with Jack Wilson, Bond, Lewis, and Pass already in full flow. When I played the track on the new pressing, Wilson’s piano sounded larger and brighter, Bond’s bass thumped solidly, and Lewis’s drums were driving and intense. Pass’s rhythm guitar was still in the background, but more audible than on the other two versions. At the point in the recording when the reeds enter to state the theme, and are answered by the brass section, the reverb surrounding both sections on the Tone Poet pressing gave the sound a startling immediacy.

Moment of Truth

This new remaster has brought forward details that enlivened the music and made it easier to really hear the intelligence and taste of Gerald Wilson’s arrangements. The tambourine on “Latino” was reserved on the CD and earlier pressing, but it sparkled into the room on this reissue. Lewis’s cymbal work and other aspect of his responsive and subtle drumming shone through on the whole album, and Bond’s bass held on tightly on every track, never fading. Jones’s phrasing, breath control, and pacing were brought into greater relief on this reissue. I’m hoping the Tone Poet series will make one or more of his Pacific Jazz recordings available soon.

The cover on the 1981 reissue did not replicate the original artwork. The label was using a generic cover, just showing the artist’s name and the album title, for all its reissues during that time. The Tone Poet reissue has restored the original cover photo and art in glorious color. The cover is heavy cardboard, with tipped-on, laminated artwork. I have other Wilson releases from the early 1960s on Pacific Jazz, and they aren’t as luxuriously packaged as this reissue. The original liner notes are printed on the back cover, and Thomas Conrad’s perceptive new look at Moment of Truth is on an insert.

The album was pressed by RTI, and my copy was absolutely quiet and flat. However, there was a foreign object—a piece of label, perhaps—pressed into the deadwax on side 1. Fortunately my stylus missed it, so no damage done, but it’s a quality-control issue that an LP at this price point ($38, in USD) shouldn’t have.

Moment of Truth contains many facets of Gerald Wilson’s talents, from the low-down blues of the title track to the tender balladry of “Teri,” which features sensitive work by Joe Pass on classical guitar. Wilson’s Latin jazz compositions embrace the music’s drama and dynamics without being bombastic, and he always has the spirit of big-band swing close at hand in his work. Wilson is an American original, and this reissue is a fine place to discover his genius.

. . . Joseph Taylor