“Day One” (Inner Circle)
by Devon Wendell
Since arriving in New York City in 2003, U.K. born tenor saxophonist Meilana Gillard has carefully carved her way into the East Coast jazz scene. At 28, she has led a succession of her own groups and performed with a diverse array of artists such as Johnny Mathis, Charlie Persip, Joan Osborne, Lauren Sevian, Mary Wilson, Jeff “Tain” Watts, Lou Rawls, and Greg Osby. Now she’s co-produced (with Osby, on his new label) “Day One,” a solo debut showcasing her skills as tenor saxophonist and composer with both discipline and swing.
The CD blends traditional jazz with psychedelic soul/funk influences, without trying too hard to sound overtly modern. Gillard’s dynamic quartet (Sam Barsh, keyboards; Tyshawn Sorey, drums; Marcos Varela, bass; Nir Felder, guitar) lays down a sultry New York City mood. Barsh’s electric keyboard styling, reminiscent of Chick Corea, shadows each track.
The up-tempo title tune kicks off with a syncopated, hard bop-charged motif. Semisweet, Red Sky, and Identity have a soulful, post-Miles, Wayne Shorter feel, in which Gillard’s and the band’s solos show a mature sense of restraint. Blissful Illusion and Sounds Like Yes demonstrate Gillard’s tasteful placement of flute and bass clarinet harmonies. Surprisingly and delightfully, her tenor tone is close to that of Shorter, Stan Getz and even Dexter Gordon, owing less to the 1960’s Coltrane influence than many of her better known contemporaries.
At its best, “Day One” provides ample proof that the prodigiously talented Meilana Gillard has not only done her homework, but is also a fresh face in the world of contemporary jazz.