It is somewhat disconcerting how few new male vocalists inhabiting the jazz idiom practice their craft with a degree of genius and virtuosity as saxophonists and other instrumentalists. It is a conundrum why not so many new artists play the first instrument–the human voice. Some posit that poeta nascitur non fit? Alternatively, is it true that vocal art is the one art that cannot really be taught, but only refined in those who “were born with it?” Are the days of great crooners over? There is, after all, only one Ray Charles, only one Louis Armstrong and Frank Sinatra; Al Hibbler, Milt Grayson, Johnny Hartman, Kurt Elling and Bobby McFerrin…
Until that is it appears that Kalil Wilson came along. Here is a singer, a profoundly smokey tenor who is so singular and naturally expressive that his voice appears biologically connected to “living breath.” His phrasing, dynamics and expression are sublime, effortless and otherworldly. Yet he is completely connected to the long and celebrated tradition of vocalists too many to name here. Wilson is heard here Easy to Love, a debut of bottomless depth and grandeur, but also self-effacing and completely lacking in the grandstanding that some vocalists might resort to today, in order to be heard and appreciated.
He does not so much sing as he floats and slides ans swims on the air that propels the lyrics that become characters in the songs. If it were not a scientific fact that the lungs were a repository of the air that blows through the vocal chords it would seem that these controlled gusts of wind came from his soul. Perhaps they actually do, for there is little else to suggest that the notes that ring loud and are heard sometimes barely above a whisper in the tones and shades that give shape and color to the characters he depens the songs as he plays them to the hilt.
On “You’ve Changed,” a swaggering blusey lament for instance, he is the elementally sad and rejected lover who cannot seem to get through his stonehearted partner. Wilson soars magnificently in his unbelief. He is a soulful listener at the feet of “Nature Boy.” Here too he sings on and sometimes behind the beat when he stretches and twists the odd note.
Other songs on the record shine anew with his deeply personal interpretation the polished delivery. On “Stardust,” “Easy Living” and “I’m in the Mood for Love”–especially on the latter–his voice enrobes the melody, carving out new harmonics. On “Then I’ll be Tired of You” as elsewhere, he navigates the scales of the song creating new peaks and valleys and the odd, surprising arpeggio. He can swing unabashedly as on “Easy Living” and “I Cried for You.” Rollicking swing is facilitated of course by pianist Berkeley Everett and the other fine musicians on this priceless record.
Tracks: Day by Day; I Concentrate on You; You’ve Changed; Nature Boy; I Cried for You; Easy Living; Stardust; I’m in the Mood for Love; Then I’ll be Tired of You; I Only Have Eyes for You; Do You Know Why? If I Could be With You; If it’s Magic; Song for You; Just for Grandma Jo.
Personnel: Kalil Wilson: vocals, background vocals, percussion; Berkley Everett: piano; Chris Bastian: bass; Max Griffith: drums; Ethan Emerson: guitars (2, 6); Ray Bergstrom: guitars (12); Josh Duron: percussion; Eli Sundelson: Hammond Organ; Peter Hargreaves: tenor saxophone; Kathy Hoye: background vocals.
Kalil Wilson on the web: www.kalilwilson.com
Review written by: Raul da Gama