CD REVIEW; WHEN FREEDOM SWINGS--IRA WIGGINS--(IWIGGS MUSIC) BY LARRY RENI THOMAS
Reedman Ira Wiggins, the director of the Jazz Studies Department at North Carolina Central University (NCCU), Durham, North Carolina , is a smooth master and blows quite nicely on the flute and the tenor saxophone, on his fine, balanced, recording, When Freedom Swings (Iwiggs Music). Wiggins has taken his swinging. award-winning NCCU Jazz ensembles, big band and bands, to perform at The White House, twice; to The Montreux and Newport Jazz festivals, and to many competitions, where the NCCU jazz bands almost always end up at the top. This recording date, his first as a leader, includes a host of heavyweights, including power pianist Cyrus Chestnut, Alvester Garnett, on drums, Herman Burney, bassist, and vibes and marimba player Jon Metzger. Wiggins also enlisted able, tight help from fellow faculty members: Baron Tymas, guitarist, Ed Paolantonio, pianist, and Thomas Taylor, drummer. Also included in When Freedom Swings is the angelic vocal work of NCCU jazz studies graduate, the much-in-demand, Brooklyn-based, Mavis "Swan" Poole.
Wiggins, a LaGrange, North Carolina native, who grew up in a musical family, is known as a quiet, gentle, perfectionist who pushes his students to not only sound as hip as The Count Basie Big Band, but, to finish school, and get a degree if they plan a career in jazz performance, a risky business at best. Wiggins can be proud that many of his former students are jazz professionals, who teach as well. Some of them include: Brian Horton, Alvin Atkinson, Jr., Mavis Swan Poole, Amen Saleem, Jeremy Clemmons, Adia Ledbetter, Brian Miller, Al Strong and others. All of these are well established in the jazz world and all studied jazz performance and came through the NCCU jazz studies department where Ira Wiggins nourished them and helped them believe that they could swing just as hard as anybody else.
When Freedom Swings is a double CD set. It includes a liner note written by Dr. Wiggins that makes you realize that this album represents the life story of a humble musician who is living his dream. The first CD is an autobiographical journey and includes original, touching tunes like "Me And Momma Gone Fishin" and inspiring selections dedicated to his alma mater (NCCU), such as "As The Eagle Soars" and "Shepard's Song." Wiggins also composed the title cut, "When Freedom Swings, which featured the earthy, sassy, singer, Mavis "Swan" Poole, and she is also included in a laid-back, colorful Wiggins arrangement of tenor great Joe Henderson classic Blue Note Records recording "Inner Urge." Ira provided lyrics for the Henderson selection. It showcased Wiggin's sense of how important words are when writing a tune. "Inner Urge" also allows the listener to hear why there is so much talk about Ms. Poole. She is a talent that deserves more notice and she sings on "Inner Urge" like she is in the moment and in the groove.
The second CD of When Freedom Swings really lives up to its billing. It swings mightily, especially the slow-burning, "Cherokee." which features awesome solos from Chestnut and Wiggins. It is, without, question, the hottest tune on the CD and is right at home with the band's almost-flawless reading of Charlie Parker's "Bloomdido" and Gene Ammon's "Red Top." Ira's tender rendition of Duke Ellington's "In A Sentimental Mood" is a treat and is a righteous dedication to his wife Joyce, a musician who co-produced When Freedom Swings. To say that this sounds like a family affair would be an understatement. There is no question that the beautiful happy music on this album was recorded with family in the mind, and that family includes not only Ira's, the NCCU jazz studies family, but, the family that loves good, swinging, music all over the world.