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Skip Wilkins Quartet: Czech Dreams

World-class jazz pianist Skip Wilkins regularly splits his time between Eastern Pennsylvania—where he teaches at Lafayette College in Easton—and Central Europe where he recently spent fifteen months in Prague. Czech Dreams, dedicated to the Czech people, is a result of touring throughout the Czech Republic and Germany and cementing his relationship with friend and Prague-based guitarist Libor Smoldas who is part of this recording. Recorded at Studio Svarov in the Czech Republic, the album offers a selection of eleven sensitive original instrumental and vocal pieces presenting an enticing and appealing musical package of modern jazz.

Along with bassist Tomas "Kastan" Baros and drummer Tomas Hobzek, forming the remaining cast of the core quartet, Wilkins invited touring partner saxophonist Rostislav Fras and Moravian singer Marie Puttnerova who lends warm vocals on the delicate "You Will Find It" and joins the leader on the buoyant "Uvidime" (We Will See). The dream begins to unfold on the medium tempo romp of "Musime" (We Must) where the pianist takes charge displaying his more than appreciable chops on the instrument accompanied well by saxophonist Fras on a superb opening statement. Wilkins' piano solo on the following "Haven't You...?" is not to be missed while the music on "Nikdo Nevi" (Nobody Knows) is fast-paced, energetic and brings guitarist Smoldas as well as drummer Hobzek to the fore with a mighty solos of their own.

Bassist Baros weighs in with a measured solo on the light and beautiful waltz of "Noci v Opera" (Nights at the Opera) propelled by more of Fras's inviting tenor solos in stark contrast to the dark texture of the following "Sasa and the Tale of the Freezy Queen" where the bassist once again proves to be a major part of the rhythm section as he does again on "Vzhuru Dolu" (Up Down) before another Wilkins romp. The music begins to wind down with the brief but gorgeous ballad of "Didn't Say" and closes on the soft title track dotted with light riffs from Smoldas and warm touches from the leader.

Jazz has no boundaries and apparently neither does pianist Skip Wilkins who has made Eastern Europe his second base of operations. Czech Dreams is an impressive sophisticated offering of European-flavored

Edward Blanco, All About Jazz (December 28, 2013)

 

 




Joint review of "After" (original material) and "I Concentrate on You" (standards) in Cadence Magazine!

Below, the writer is referring to these two CDs:

The story of (these two releases), recorded one day apart in the same place, is intriguing. Wilkins planned to record a CD of originals, titled 'After' (the occasion being that his children had gone off to college—what to do 'after'?). And he did—but with enough studio time to spare that the trio could embark on a separate CD of the standard repertoire they enjoyed playing and explored so easily. The trio is beautifully integrated, bass and drums in equitable support of Wilkins’ rippling lines. As a composer, Wilkins has a flair for melodies—'Words I Remember,' 'Waiting for Prague,' and 'Since You Asked' being particularly pretty and introspective. Bassist Lee and drummer Hirshfield evoke rich sounds, creating an ideal trio. The companion CD of standards is inventive but respectful, melodic but never dull. It’s far from cliché-ridden Easy Listening: admire their energetic 'Bye Bye Blackbird' and the two versions of 'Portrait of Jenny.' This trio was new to me, but their work is completely convincing on many levels.

 

After / Skip Wilkins Trio (Import Version)

American pianist, Skip Wilkins, currently living in Prague, Czech Republic, created this New York Trio album. Skip has performed as a talented co-star with such famous musicians as Dave Liebman (sax), Stanley Turrentine (Ts), Clark Terry (Tp), and Conte Candoli (Tp). He is a graduate of The Berklee College of Music in Boston, where he is also a professor. All compositions on the album are original compositions filled with emotional intelligence and a unique Skip Wilkins feel. Due perhaps to the time Skip has spent in both Europe and the U.S., there is a blend of cutting-edge New York jazz and classical jazz elements. “After,” the title song, exhibits innovative phrasing and harmonic technique. ”Don’t Drink Anything Hot,” and “Architect’s Delight” are interesting compositions utilizing dissonance reminiscent of Thelonious Monk. Bassist Scott Lee’s singing solos help to further enhance the sounds of the trio.

(N.B., Skip Wilkins taught at Berklee during the summer of 1988 and continues now as associate professor of music at Lafayette College; on sabbatical for 2011-2012, and living in Prague.)

Special thanks to Larry and Noriko Stockton, who translated this review from the original Japanese.

www.jazzpage.net (Japan)

Skip Wilkins Trio - I Concentrate on You (Dreambox Media ***)
Skip Wilkins - After (Dreambox Media ***)

Pianist Skip Wilkins has assembled two CDs, one of standards (already out) and the other of originals (due out this summer).

The current Lafayette College jazz professor, who is relocating to Europe, says he made After for his grown children who had left home. The intuitive set with drummer Jeff Hirshfield and bassist Scott Lee projects a warm, rich tone and a questing vibe at times. The title track certainly produces righteous heat.

I Concentrate on You fits nicely in the same trio's wheelhouse, although it's also more predictable. The Cole Porter title track is full of pleasant thoughts, while "Who Cares?" swings vigorously. "Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise" presents a caffeinated encounter before a gentle close.

Karl Stark - Philadelphia Inquirer (April 24, 2011)

 





Rostislav Fraš – Skip Wilkins Quintet has a “perfectly mastered repertoire, composed entirely of their own compositions.”

Wilkins is “an inventive composer.”

“If international cooperation worked so well in other spheres, the world would be just beautiful.”

Muzikus.cz (April 28, 2010)

 


The Paint-Peeler melds together elements of traditional, modern, and free jazz in a mélange of creative energy and expression. Wilkins' compositions and arrangements are full of emotion and intellectual fervor, while his improvisations are first-rate and are constantly being enhanced by the rest of the ensemble. The quintet, consisting of Paul Kendall on saxes, Tom Kozic on guitar, Tony Marino on bass, and Gary Rissmiller on drums, moves between '60s avant-garde free-improvisation and '50s style swing in a manner that is both seamless and captivating.

Drawing upon influences such as Keith Jarrett and Bill Evans, Wilkins' improvisations constantly push the band to new levels of creativity. Whether it's the barn-burning title track or the Evans-influenced slow waltz, "December (As I Would Have It)," there is never a moment where Wilkins sounds uncomfortable or at less than his best. Aside from his soloing, Wilkins is also an exemplary accompanist. His ability to move between a modern-acoustic feel ("Standing in the Wind") and an electric-fusion feel à la Joe Zawinul ("Trappers in the Family") helps to push the other band members to new levels of creativity in their solos.

Matthew Warnock, All About Jazz (May 03, 2009)

 

Philadelphia pianist Skip Wilkins' writing covers a lot of ground but he has a particularly nice touch both composing and playing ballads like 'Glow' and 'December.' His more uptempo work is loud and aggressive. 'Swiftly' is a fast walking tune that dissolves into tenor bleats and abstract bowed bass while 'The Paint-Peeler' is a fast piece that lets saxophonist Paul Kendall and guitarist Tom Kozic chase each other around. 'Standing In The Wind' is built out of Monkish chords and gives Kendall a chance to really honk, 'Trappers In The Family' is a lurching Jazz-rock stomp fronted by baritone sax, electric keyboards, and twangy rock guitar, and 'Bring The Sun' closes things out with a fast, nimble samba. Wilkins and his band have put together an enjoyable and eclectic set.

Cadence (Spring 2009)

 


O's Notes: This solo recording was Skip's way of introducing himself to the community at Lafayette College when he joined the faculty during 2000. It's a strong performance including several different genres both originals and standards. It serves well as entertainment either in the background or for serious listening. Wilkins traverses the keys softly at times and then with fervor but always extracting good vibrations. The recording lay dormant for years as his collaborative efforts with his quintet yielded two albums. When Skip decided to record a solo CD, he realized he already had a gem and we're glad he looked back! This one is very good. 4/4

O's Place Jazz Newsletter (October 29, 2007)

 

"...Wilkins serves up an enjoyable set of Jazz standards leavened by a few originals...This recording is from a solo piano concert given in Pennsylvania in 2000, a fact that I quite forgot until the applause at the end of the "Peau Douce" reminded me. It's easy to forget as the recording sounds good and the piano sounds first-rate. Wilkins himself is also first-rate for although the idiom is pretty much as conservative as the titles would suggest, he steers largely clear of outright cliché...you can certainly hear echoes of Bill Evans, Monk, Bud Powell, the Blues (even during Chopin's "Waltz") and perhaps some Ramsey Lewis inflected funk ("Hackensack"), but his lyrical voice sounds convincingly personal despite the outside influences in play. Wilkins possesses a deft technique though he is not a particularly showy pianist - as with most good musicians, technique is at the service of the music and not the other way around. Harmonically, he is right out of the Evans-Peterson bag and the lines don't stray far from the chord but there is a sense of lyrical conviction that serves him well enough even within the confines of traditional Jazz harmony. I particularly enjoyed his interpretation of Carmichael's beautiful "Skylark" with its hints of Stride piano spiced with some subtle reharmonization. Of the originals, "Take the Fourth" is probably the best...the three examples of his writing work well within the context of the set as a whole...I enjoyed this CD and I can recommend it to those who love these tunes."

Cadence Magazine

 


Pianist Skip Wilkins continues his easy-to-take ways on this follow-up to last year's more up-tempo Volume I. Wilkins, who teaches at Lafayette College in Easton, doesn't wax professorial on this set of nine originals. The session sounds like West Coast cool but with updated, East Coast suavity.  The quintet—tenor saxophonist Paul Kendall, guitarist Tom Kozic, bassist Tony Marino and drummer Gary Rissmiller—regularly creates a likable languor. The tunes evolve—the fast-moving "Need Some Ice" hits a soulful interlude courtesy of Kendall, while "Quiet, Please," written for a local politician whom Wilkins found irritating, comes off as chamomile mellow.  Nice trick if you can do it. "Fortuitous Fifteen" is more angular and bopish yet still melodic, while
"Hold Me" is all liquid ballad.

Philadelphia Inquirer (September 16, 2007)

 

Pianist Skip Wilkins gathers some musically sympathetic colleagues in Easton, Pennsylvania, for the second part of a marathon session.  Wilkins's pieces are well thought out, with plenty of musical mile-markers in the solo sections to tie in with the various head structures...the musical quality is always there.

The CD begins with a Silver-Blakey influenced mid-tempo quasi-shuffle, "For Ten Percent," a tune with some definite soul.  Paul Kendall's straight-ahead tenor solo reminds a little of Frank Foster or Benny Golson in its overall approach. Guitarist Tom Kozic comes through with a burnished tone like [Kenny] Burrell and he is no slouch.  The rhythm section cooks along, drummer Rissmiller sounds tasty.  Skip takes a solo next in an impeccable way according to the style at hand.  An engaging tune.

A pretty ballad in three follows, called "Used to Be." Wilkins takes a solo which gives you his lyrical-melodic sincerity and Kendall's tenor sounds a bit like Shorter in a wistful mood.  He builds the solo as the rhythm section takes on a kind of 1962 Miles [Davis] feel...

A [Wayne] Shorter ESP period-like "Betrayal" follows, with a rather wispy tenor motif and piano response.  Then follows an almost polite post-[Bill] Evans "Hold Me" with quiet chords on piano with quiet guitar commentary.  The tenor does a Shorteresque cantabile and it's all quite sensitive...well-wrought, quite pleasant...the song craft is in abundant evidence...the rhythm section strongly anchors the date and it's all solid...

Cadence Magazine, August 2007

 


Pianist Skip Wilkins goes from soulful, gut-bucket mode to rich ballads to angular modern jazz on this tasteful set of original tunes. The opening "It Was Bound to Happen" is the session's earthiest cut, with tenor saxophonist Paul Kendall keening and guitarist Tom Kozic in full wail over the two-chord vamp that's included here. Wilkins, who teaches music at Lafayette College in Easton, shows a yen for bop structure on the horn-heavy "Take the Fourth." His solo on "Stephanie's Song" is silky supper-club stuff, while "No Parking" tends toward the fast-twitch neurotic before it seques into a softer groove. The session with bassist Tony Marino and drummer Gary Rissmiller is understated and generally full of pleasant smoky moments.

Karl Stark - Philadelphia Inquirer (Nov 12, 2006)

 

Pianist/composer/bandleader Skip Wilkins is a talented musician working out of Eastern Pennsylvania, where he teaches at the Williams Center for the Arts [Lafayette College] in Easton in addition to making gigs in Philadelphia, the Poconos and New York City. He's recorded several albums with flutist Jill Allen and has compiled, over the years, an impressive catalog of original compositions, now available on Volume I, soon to be followed by a companion volume.

Culled from three separate concerts given at his college, the CD documents the interworkings of a cohesive band playing over well-conceived material. Consisting of Wilkins (piano), Paul Kendall (tenor saxophone), Tom Kozic (guitar), Tony Marino (bass) and Gary Rissmiller (drums), the quintet makes music marked by an informality and intimacy gained only through close association and mutual respect. Wilkins has penned some very fine tunes here, including: "It Was Bound to Happen" (a two-beat funker with an expansive and lyrical phrase structure), "Stephanie's Song" (a beautiful ballad in 3/4) and "Unforgotten" (a pensive, exploratory ballad). There are some brisk uptempo numbers too -- Wilkins likes to call them "rumbles" -- over which the group members acquit themselves to forceful effect, as on "No Parking," when guitarist Kozic comes crashing out of the starting gate, only to catch a mellow stride at the solo's mid-stretch.

The band (with a pinch-hitter on bass) gave New Yorkers a chance to sample their wares at a mid-December mid-afternoon concert at BigAppleJazz/EZ's Woodshed, a newish Harlem one-stop bop-shop created by Gordon Polatnick. The camaraderie and compatibility suggested by the recording was immediately apparent on the bandstand as Wilkins and friends treated listeners to selections from the CD as well as some from the yet-to-be-released Vol. II, setting these compositional gems in an aesthetically apposite musical jewel box.

Tom Greenland - All About Jazz (Jan 7, 2007)

 

For his third disc as a leader, it's easy to suggest Wilkins has come of age as a pianist and composer. Wilkins, who lives in Macungie and teaches jazz at Lafayette College, has been doing this for a while, so the "age" bit isn't meant to impugn his earlier work, two fine CDs featuring flutist Jill Allen in (mostly) quartet settings. These laid some important groundwork for what is easily Wilkins' most impressive music, Vol. 1 ("Vol 2" is already recorded and due in the spring). He wrote and arranged all the tunes. More to the point, his quintet -- bassist Tony Marino, guitarist Tom Kozic, drummer Gary Rissmiller and tenor saxophonist Paul Kendall -- have played these pieces enough to feel comfortable with them, and, even on a first listen, that shows. This isn't head-solo-head jazz, and Wilkins' writing demands a lot from the players, but the listening isn't a challenge at all, which speaks volumes about the players' talents. Still, Wilkins' music has an edge; he's searching for, and more often than not finding, his own voice, which is really what jazz is all about. "Vol. 2" has a high standard to meet.

Tim Blangger - The Morning Call (Nov 18, 2006)

 

O's Notes: Skip plays piano and puts the heart and soul into each of the songs without dominating the stage. The warmth of Paul Kendall's sax brings romance to "Stephanie's Song", one of the nine Wilkins compositions. Tom Kozic (g) comes out blazing on "No Parking" and Tony Marino adds a bass solo on "Would Aldous Huxley...?" a swinger with Paul again playing a strong role. Bassist Tony Marino and Gary Rissmiller do more than anchor the beats. They provide accents and punch from the lower registers that give the music character. Collectively this is a fine set and we look forward to Volume II.

D. Oscar Groomes - O's Place Jazz Newsletter (Dec 16, 2006)


 

"A fun, frolicsome spirit pervades their swinging instrumentals. This album is extremely colorful, thanks to varied moods and Wilkins' variegated playing. "

Tom Schulte - Detroit Free Press

 

Bostonian Skip Wilkins wrote most of the tunes on Petty Theft, serving notice that he’s on his way to becoming an important jazz composer. His playing is hard-driving and both melodic and adventurous.

Mike Gladstone - 52nd Street Jazz (on-line magazine)

 

Usually jazz is either sweet or edgy, but seldom both. Wilkins, Allen and company have managed to achieve both moods, which is itself an achievement….Wilkins is an inventive, subtle pianist.

Tim Blangger - The Morning Call (Allentown, PA)

 

Skip (Wilkins) has some of the best hands/fingers you've ever heard on a keyboard. What my ears keep coming back to (even though the flute stands out) is Wilkins' keyboards! It's not just the mix, it's the CHOPS!

Dick Metcalf - Improvijazzation

 

Pianist Skip Wilkins and flutist Jill Allen’s Petty Theft is so cool, it’s bound to steal you away from the coldest winter blues. The Wilkins & Allen Quartet is joined by saxophonist David Liebman for this bright, sassy album of lyrical jazz that is a credit to their mentors, Herbie Hancock and Stan Getz.

Celia Sharpe - The Review

 

“…a musical picture of stunning beauty.”

Justin Arawjo - Pocono Record


 

  

“The CD is loaded with hard-charging riffs—a welcome mixture of energy and dexterity—honed with color, lyricism and originality.”

Curt Yeske - Trenton Times

 

“Wilkins and Allen manage to leave serious determination with a gentle and humorous treatment of both standards and originals, lending a playful insouciance to the album.”

Pete Pappalardo - Pocono Record

 

"Two Much Fun blends clean, classical chops with a swinging sensibility. Wilkins gives a colorful base for Allen, whose muscular pyrotechnics rise well above liftoff."

Karl Stark - Philadelphia Inquirer

 

“Whether with his own compositions, such as the blue-suede moodiness of ‘Numb,’ or standards such as ‘Smile,’ Wilkins’ playing is lyrical. There is a stateliness to his playing that is subtle without seeming mannered or austere."

Todd Dawson - Easton Express-Times

 

"To open their debut recording, “Other Things You Are” offers attractive contrapuntal harmonic variations of Jerome Kern’s “All the Things You Are” to set the tone for an entertaining series of intimate piano/flute duos—music that exhibits a spirit of adventure."

David Lewis - Cadence

 

"Two Much Fun is just that. Both of you keep writing those great tunes."

Dave Brubeck

  
 
 
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